There’s a certain sort of girl who crops up regularly in films, especially those of the indie variety. She’s kooky, she’s crazy, she dances to the beat of her own annoying drum, and her mission is to teach some boring bloke how to live. Oh, and she’s totally hot. The Onion A. V. Club call her, brilliantly, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and she’s “that sentient ray of sunshine sent from heaven to warm the heart and readjust the attitude of even the broodiest, most uptight male protagonist.” As Neal Rabin, who coined the phrase, says:
[She] 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.”
Natalie Portman in Garden State, I’m looking at you! Why do I hate this kooky archetype so much? Well, for one, she’s always really fucking annoying, wittering on about pet cemeteries or rainbows or whatever crap the scriptwriter picked at random from his (and these characters are pretty much always written by men, presumably those who wish more girls would be pixie-like rays of sunshine rather than real people with boring stuff like jobs and political opinions) Big Book Of Kook. But here’s the core of the MPDG’s irritatingness:
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…. Oh, Natalie, your unconventional ways are so inspiring, and your beauty is surprisingly non-threatening!
I’ve got to disagree with the inclusion of Shirley Maclaine in The Apartment in this list, because her character is actually pretty world weary and cool; likewise, Holly Golightly is a bit too reserved for a true MPDG. And I think of Katherine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby more as an archetypical screwball comedy pratfaller than a kooky pixie lady (although technically, of course, she fits the bill). But the definition of the MPDG remains spot on. No wonder none of them ever seem to have any female friends. You can never imagine any of the MPDGs saying anything funny or snarky – they just like laughing at life! Everything’s just so crazy! So they’ve made transforming some boring bloke’s life into their calling, and will work tirelessly until the boy du jour has learned how to ride a vintage motorbike, or indulge in some light shoplifting, or wear an unusual hat, or receive mildly non-vanilla sexual services, or whatever it takes to loosen him up. In fact, when you think about it, being a Manic Pixie Dream Girl all sounds like a lot of work, really. Kind of makes me grateful for my office job.