Zach Braff trying to figure Natalie Portman out. Image Source.
I wish I could re-title this article ‘When Doing You is the Worst Thing You Can Possibly Do’ and send it back in time to my 15-year-old self in the form of a chain email — subject line: ‘M@niC piXiE dRe@m GirLs’.
DON’T EVER WATCH GARDEN STATE OR LISTEN TO THE SHINS and (please god) DON’T LOOK UP QUOTES FROM ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTTLESS MIND AND USE THEM IN YOUR MYSPACE BIO, it would open.
Alerting young me to the perils of playing into the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope before it was too late, the email would wisely advise that when ~doing you~ means performing a quirky stereotype, it’s time to return to the personality drawing board. Dye your hair blue if you must, I’d concede, but please don’t pretend these characters know your soul. It’s time to stop playing a supporting role in your own life!
Now forward this email to fifteen of your closest friends in the next 7 minutes or you’ll be a loser
for the next few years forever.
Alas, I am a 25-year-old woman with no access to a chain email time machine, and I’ll never be able to un-see Garden State, un-listen to The Shins, or un-live a painful portion of my teenhood.
The first time I heard the term Manic Pixie Dream Girl was when it was used to describe my ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend. “She’s just a manic pixie dream girl,” my friend told me. When I looked at her with confused eyes that were ready to cling to any flaws my ex’s new partner might possess, she explained that it meant a zany, creative gal with the ability to transform a guy’s life for the better. “What a loser”, I replied in the grand tradition of criticising women who exist alongside a shitty thing that a guy did. Thankfully, the angry phase of that break-up is behind me, and I can now see this conversation for what it truly was: an attempt to reduce a complicated/cool female human to a caricature who exists for (and because of) a man. This got me thinking about all the other ways in which Manic Pixie Dream Girls have ruined my life, thanks a lot you guys!
Film critic Nathan Rabin coined the term Manic Pixie Dream Girl his 2007 review of painfully bad movie Elizabethtown. “The Manic Pixie Dream Girl exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures,” he wrote. (Sorry Kiki Dunst). Rabin’s article also made reference to my formative MPDG: Natalie Portman in Garden State. These women, with their girlish ways and their “weird” personality traits, are simultaneously deep and dreamy. They are unreal in a way that presents a challenge for the male lead: fall in love with this girl or she’ll float the fuck away. With little agency of their own, these women exist to save the sappy male lead from the existential crisis that Hollywood allows them to have.
Manic Pixie Dream Girls like good music:
They speak bro:
Are quirkier than your average issue of Frankie Magazine:
Often take spontaneous road trips to nowhere in particular:
And will most definitely change your life:
At this point I would like to confirm that 15-year-old me loved Garden State enormously and subsequently became a fan of every single band on the Garden State soundtrack, but mostly:
At the time, I was under the impression that aligning myself with these pop culture forms gave me indie girl clout in the coastal town I grew up in. Also: no one understood me! I can also confirm that adult me would prefer to suppress these memories, but my editor asked me to write this article and I said yes.
Other notable Manic Pixie Dream Girls are Almost Famous’ Kate Hudson and 500 Days of Summer’s Zooey Deschanel. So free spirited, so adorable, just so.
More recently, Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi) gives us a slightly more nuanced MPDG in Master of None as Dev’s (Aziz Ansari) main squeeze. Her character has all the hallmarks of a MPDG — she’s magical, she’s beautiful, she’s life-altering — but unlike other manic pixies, she’s not completely powerless. Hooray for progress!
Manic Pixie Dream Girls didn’t necessarily make me a bad person but they did reduce my capacity to become a better person: why actually create something when you can get by on creative musings? Why speak up about the things that you believe in when it’s more attractive to remain mysterious? Why be straightforward with members of the opposite sex when you can be cryptic? By following in the footsteps of MPDG, I ended up living my teenage life as a kind of performance of my difference where seeming cool on the surface was more important than feeling cool on the inside.
Today, I’m writing a hyperbolic article about how a cinematic trope ruined my life. So can I claim to have recovered from the damage inflicted on my personality by Manic Pixie Dream Girls? Probably not.
More on the MPDG phenomenon here: