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Manic Pixie Dream Girls Are The Scourge Of Modern Cinema

Illustration for article titled Manic Pixie Dream Girls Are The Scourge Of Modern Cinema

The always-relevant Onion A.V. Club has coined a term for the type of movie girl-woman whom we've long despised: the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. The A.V. Club defines the MPDG as "that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that 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." Our own Sadie had a fantastic rant about this particular kind of flighty creature, whom she termed "Amazing Girls," or, ideal muses whose beauty, sweetness and gentle, studied eccentricity renders them entirely docile. Of all the MPDGs listed by the A.V. Club, the most pernicious of these cinematic sweethearts is far and away Natalie Portman's irksome moppet in Garden State.

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I hated that character from the second she flounced on the screen. I remember distinctly Portman telling Zach Braff's character that she was "weird" and then doing a silly little dance to illustrate her "weirdness." Honestly? Anyone who telegraphs their so-called weirdness so outlandishly is not actually weird, they're merely quirky enough to be vaguely interesting without having their own thing going on. They're completely mainstream but have one really big tattoo, or occasionally sing really loud in the shower! "Oh, Natalie," the A.V. Club writes, "your unconventional ways are so inspiring, and your beauty is surprisingly non-threatening!"

As the A.V. Club deftly notes, "Like the Magical Negro, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype is largely defined by secondary status and lack of an inner life. She's on hand to lift a gloomy male protagonist out of the doldrums, not to pursue her own happiness." Since they've defined it so succinctly, I've realized that many recent films employ the MPDG stock character — Forgetting Sarah Marshall, for instance, where Mila Kunis's character is a free spirited nymph deposited on the shores of Hawaii in order to encourage Jason Segel to write the vampire rock puppet musical he's been fantasizing about for years. But what of the dude? You know, the brooding artsy loser in need of a MPDG to revive his creative and sexual juices? The ones who use MPDG's to stroke their fragile egos and project their muse-fantasies on? What should we call him? I think he deserves a name because these movies, and the notion of the MPDG, are really about him: his needs, his desires, his artistic endeavors.

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Wimpster, while appropriate, lacks the specificity of MPDG and also is so four years ago. Maybe the new bromantics, because that term emphasizes their dudeliness but also their childish notions of romantic attachment? In any event, these self-absorbed whiners are to be avoided in real life, though, like (adorable!) Jason Segal in FSM, new bromantics can be charming in film.

Wild Things: 16 Films Featuring Manic Pixie Dream Girls [AV Club]
Soapbox [The Petite Sophisticate]
Meet The Wimpster [The Black Table]

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DISCUSSION

tiredfairy
tiredfairy

Eh, I think there's are some characters that work on this list...and some that don't.

For instance, I don't agree with Juno for a few reasons...the first being that she's the main character of the film which is about her, not a guy she's fixing. And her "quirks" aren't that quirky to me...she likes horror movies and music and speaks in a way not unlike many a male character in various films (see anything by Kevin Smith). My point is that that's not "quirky" in the way the GS character is. She exists for herself. She doesn't fall neatly into that slot, imho.

I'm also going to have to disagree about Arwen in LOTR since she's not quirky, manic, or anything like that. She as opposite to Tinkerbell as you can get. There's a lot of depth to that character which they worked hard to develop in the film, which wasn't easy given the scope of it. I think just dumping her character into that category is problematic.

The biggest problem in a lot of this is that the "muse" character, or manic quirky girl who teaches hero about life (and then often dies), is very much a male ideal. So movies written and made by men will have them. You only get the female side of that coin (because sure, some of us are quirky and manic but we do NOT exist simply as an addendum)when women tell the story.

I honestly don't mind the use of many archetypes as long as it's A. conscious and B. used to explore it and discuss it and do something more with it. Buffy is a great example, for instance, since it was very deliberately about using the "cute little blonde girl" of horror movie fame and making her a real, whole person.