Practice English Speaking&Listening with: The Manic Pixie Dream Girl Trope, Explained

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Im impossible to forget, but Im hard to remember

Ever meet a woman whos quirky, impulsive,

and plays by her own set of rules?

You know what I do when I feel completely unoriginal?

Blah blahhh blah blah.

I make a noise

or do something that no one has ever done before

If you have, and youre a lonely sad-sack dude in a movie

then you may have encountered a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

See, I have a gift: A special ability

to help men with problems.”

Originally coined by A.V.

Club writer Nathan Rabin,

this term became part of the pop-culture vernacular

because it so perfectly encapsulated a certain type

of female character that had become prevalent

in a certain type of movie.

Ill race you to the bedroom!”

Here are a few characteristics that most

Manic Pixie Dream Girls seem to share:

Theyre outgoing.

Men in movies hardly ever approach Manic Pixie Dream Girls.

I have to fill out this form, though, so…”

Manic Pixie Dream Girls come up to them,

introduce themselves, and strike up conversations.

Louisville, Kentucky, huh?

Home, business or family?”

Even if theyre played by supernaturally beautiful movie stars,

men often react to their seductive whimsy

with reluctance or bafflement:

Hey, you wanna come up for a cup of cocoa?”

As scintillating as the evening has been,

Im afraid not.”

They have particular and outwardly advertised tastes.

Whether its in fashion, music

What are you listening to?”

The Shins.

You knowem?”

No.”

You gotta hear this one song,

Itll change your life I swear.”

-- or just oddball theories.

Phils are dangerous.

Phils are less predictable than Bens.”

Manic Pixie Dream Girls have a style

thats meant to advertise that they are not like normal girls.

I love the Smiths.

You have good taste in music.”

You like the Smiths?”

Theyre undaunted.

Manic Pixie Dream Girls

never give up, no matter what

men or society are telling them.

We carry on.”

They persistusually somehow

remaining in a great mood, even if theyre dying!

They dont care what people think!

Penis!”

Penis

By doing all this, they change peoples lives.

Specifically, mens lives.

This is your comfort zone.

Its this big, Quentin.

All the things that you want

in the world are way out there.”

Men who need a Manic Pixie Dream Girl

are typically lonely, depressed or driven by their careers

Im not saying I saying I dont cry, but in between,

I laugh, and I realize how silly it is

to take anything too seriously.”

The once timid or dejected male protagonist emerges

from his encounter with a Manic Pixie Dream Girl

ready to embrace lifes challenges and idiosyncrasies.

You have five minutes to wallow in the delicious misery.

Enjoy it.

Embrace it.

Discard it.

And proceed.”

Of course, many of these traits

arguably apply to a lot of heroines

throughout film history.

There *is* a leopard on your roof

and it's my leopard and I have to get it

and to get it I have to sing

Is it so weird for a woman to have

a distinctive fashion sense, or a favorite band

or an extraverted, nonconformist personality?

Whats the difference between a Manic Pixie Dream Girl

and a genuinely quirky woman?

La di da, la di da, la la

Heres our take on who

the Manic Pixie Dream Girl really is,

and whether she still exists

in pop culture as we know it.

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The movie Elizabethtown certainly didnt invent

the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but it did inspire the label.

Then have the courage to fail big and stick around.

Make em wonder why youre still smilin’.”

In 2007, A.V.

Club writer Nathan Rabin

kicked off his column series My Year of Flops with an entry

on Cameron Crowes 2005 movie, which was a notorious box office

and critical failure from the much-loved writer-director

who also made Say Anything Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous

Its all happening.”

Elizabethtown is about a depressed young man

played by Orlando Bloom traveling to his fathers memorial,

when he meets Claire, a flight attendant

played by Kristen Dunst, who becomes his cheerful,

quirky, effervescent love interest.

Im completely cool with anything

you wanna say or not say

Claire, Rabin wrote, is a Manic Pixie Dream Girl,

a type of character whoexists solely in the

fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors,

to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life

and its infinite mysteries and adventures.”

The A.V.

Club later Posted a longer list

of Manic Pixie Dream Girls throughout film history.

Like a lot of coinages in the age of the internet,

the termManic Pixie Dream Girl

quickly became a popular shorthand.

But as with a lot of insightful, memorable critiques,

the term also became a catch-all.

For some writers and viewers, it was a familiar buzzer

that they could hit every time they recognized

some characteristics of the trope.

At times, the eagerness to label female characters

Manic Pixie Dream Girls started to feel, to some,

like latent misogynya way of dismissing

female characters for superficial reasons,

like having dyed hair or being funny.

I just came in here for something for a headache.”

Youre gonna need an awful big glass of water

to get that thing down.”

Thoughtful creators like the novelist John Green

and the writer and actress Zoe Kazan called the term out

both in interviews and in their work

as being unhelpful and applied too broadly

to characters who were really more than just

Manic Pixie Dream Girls.

Quirky, messy women whose problems

only make them endearing are not real.”

Nathan Rabin even wrote an essay for Salon in 2014,

in which he confessed to his pride turning to discomfort

as the description became ubiquitous and increasingly used in sexist ways

-- rather than calling out sexism, as it was originally intended to do.

Today the term remains a part of the cultural lexicon

See me?

Encouraging you to take risks?

Manic Pixie Dream Girl wants you to do something

youve never done before!”

but the question of who exactly qualifies

as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl

is increasingly fraught and controversial,

even as new examples of the trope continue to appear:

"There's just something about her, she's not like anybody else.

Is she magic?"

Im not used to girls like you.”

Thats because Im one of a kind

To be sure, Rabin was correct to point out Elizabethtown

as a particularly egregious example

of a particularly persistent cliché.

Claire takes an immediate, supportive liking to a stranger

I know I may never see you again,

but we are intrepid

she offers life-changing advice

Everybodys gotta take a road trip at least once in their lives.

Just you and some music!”

and she curates his life with art projects and mix CDs,

guiding him on his own cross-country

scattering of his dads ashes

I have this thing for you.

Its a very unique map!”

Another go-to example of the MPDG

is Natalie Portmans character Sam from Garden State,

written and directed by Zach Braff.

This is your one opportunity to do something that no one

has ever done before and no one will copy again

throughout human existence!”

Sam meets Braffs character Andrew by chance,

takes an immediate interest in him,

shows off adorable personality quirks

sometimes I lie, I mean, Im weird, man

and brings him out of overmedicated numbness.

You saved my life and Ive known you for four days.”

In less widely seen movies like Watching the Detectives,

the female lead will go even further to advertise

her specialness through the screenwriter

Youre allergic to boredom.”

Its a very exotic

and misunderstood disorder.

You can understand why

doctors are reluctant to diagnose it.”

with lots of fussed-over quirks

that ultimately dont mean much

Im a big believer in random capitalization.

The rules are so unfair to the letters in the middle.”

Romantic weepies like Autumn in New York

and Sweet November give stars

like Charlize Theron and Winona Ryder

a positive attitude and a series of eccentricities

so they can improve the men in their stories.

Lets talk about you.

What do you get out of it?”

I get to help you!”

In Sweet November, Charlize Therons character Sara

lives a lifestyle that seems designed

to rebuke the aggression and materialism of

the Keanu Reeves character.

How much do you charge for this?

I dont do this for the money!”

Then why do you do it?”

Because I like it!

Every woman I know spends $200 on a haircut.

You use a vacuum cleaner!”

Even when Saras broader motivations are eventually revealed,

they function as a life lesson for her boyfriend.

Just like I need to know that youll go on

and have a beautiful lifethe one you deserve!”

Though the Manic Pixie Dream Girl term may have been popularized

and identified during the 2000s , this character type has lineage

in much older movies.

But claiming these classic forerunners

as just more Manic Pixie Dream Girls

dismisses and marginalizes some of the best romantic comedy

heroines in movie history.

All that happened, happend because I was trying

to keep you near me and I was just doing anything

that came into my head.”

For some, theoriginalManic Pixie Dream Girl

is Susan, the flighty heiress played by Katharine Hepburn

in the 1938 classic Bringing Up Baby,

who bedevils and vexes a paleontologist

played by Cary Grant

No but if you only wait while I explain…”

torn your coat…”

Susan is quirky

Im gonna give you a ticket.”

Well, thank you very much constable,

Id love to go to the circus,

but you better keep your ticket

because Im busy tonight

shes brash and shes relentless

in her dedication to a guy

who doesnt initially seem that interested.

Run, Susan!”

No!

I wont leave you,

I love you!”

What?!

But Bringing Up Baby is a screwball comedy,

which depends on characters who are outsized, zany,

and undaunted to move the plot along.

In 1972 screwball homage Whats Up, Doc?

Barbra Streisands relentless character

does exist to loosen up a square professor

and take him on a crazy adventure.

Hey, Steve, wait up!”

But like in earlier screwball comedies,

her unbeatable persistence is part of the joke

shes like Bugs Bunny, as indicated

by the movies title and irreverent attitude.

Love means never having to say youre sorry.”

Thats the dumbest thing Ive ever heard.”

Another supposed Manic Pixie Dream Girl

from the past,

the title character from 1978 Best Picture winner Annie Hall,

is flighty

Jeez, I dont know, I mean, I wasnt…”

a distinctive dresser,

This tie was a present from my Grammy Hall

characterized as unlike other women

and seen mostly through the eyes of male lead Alvy Singer.

Youre driving a tad rapidly…”

Dont worry, Im a very good driver

But Annie -- who was supposedly based on actress Diane Keaton,

a real person -- is likewise her own person,

whos not content to just be Alvys fantasy object.

Existential motifs in Russian Literature!

Youre really close.”

Whats the difference,

its all mental masturbation!”

Oh, finally were getting

to a subject you know something about!”

And in the end, the whole movie

is about a relationship that doesnt work out,

Lets face it, you know,

I dont think our relationship is working.”

although Alvy likes to imagine it did

by changing the ending in his own fiction.

So even if these memorable female characters

fit the MPDGs list of traits, its reductive to lump them together

and ignore their complexity.

but it all began when we passed the point of no return.”

I think we just passed it.”

In some ways the Manic Pixie Dream Girl

overlaps with a much older spirit:

The Muse.

In Greek mythology, the muses are the goddesses

who bring inspiration to literature and art

"We are the Muses.

Goddesses of the arts

and proclaimers of heroes"

They may serve man in that sense,

but theyre also far more powerful than mere mortals.

Perhaps one of the best onscreenmusecharacters

in recent decades is the etherealband aid

played by Kate Hudson in Crowes 200 film Almost Famous.

Ladies and gentlemen!”

In the aftermath of Cameron Crowes Elizabethtown

spawning the MPDG label, some questioned whether

maybe Penny Lane was also a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

Whats your real name?”

Ill never tell.”

After all, shes free-spirited

Im going to live in Morocco,

for one year.

I need a new crowd.”

stylish, has great taste in music

and if you ever get lonely, just go to the record store

and visit your friends.”

and changes the lives of both rock star Russell,

the guitarist of the band she loves,

and protagonist William Miller, the young music journalist

whos in awe of her.

I have to go home.”

You are home

But Penny doesnt exist to inspire these men alone.

Her connection to music is portrayed as more pure

and spiritual than just about anyone elses in the movie.

And the story also underlines how Pennys generosity as a muse

doesnt always work out for her.

You dont know what he says to me in private!

Maybe it is love, as much as it can be for somebody…”

“...who sold you to Humble Pie

for fifty bucks at a case of beer?”

So in the end, her happy ending

isnt returning to either man

we both wanted to be with her

but she wanted us to be together

but going off on her own, in search of a new adventure.

One big problem with the Manic Pixie Dream Girl label

is that its also indiscriminately applied to characters

who are consciously intended to deconstruct,

undermine or comment on this trope.

Too many guys think Im a concept,

or I complete them, or Im gonna make them alive.”

As a Trope Anatomy video on the subject pointed out

two of the most extreme examples of this mislabeling

are Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Minds Clementine

and 500 Days of Summers Summer

Clementine is outgoing

OK if I sit closer?”

brash

I dont need nice.

I dont need myself to be it,

and I dont need anybody else to be it at me.”

constantly changing her hair color,

and trying to live by her own rules.

I wanna be a great big huge elephant.”

And Summer in 500 Days of Summer

is the picture of the alluring quirky girl

whos many a hipsters fantasy.

Come on, I love Ringo Starr!”

Nobody loves Ringo Starr!”

Thats what I love about him!”

Shes also played by Zooey Deschanel,

whos played other uninhibited female characters inspiring men

to live freer lives -- and whose cupcake-loving,

musical, quirky-girl real-life persona

became synonymous with the Manic Pixie Dream Girl

in the popular consciousness for a while.

But Eternal Sunshine, which came out earlier

than Garden State or Elizabethtown,

was calling out the idea of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl

before anyone had even coined a name for it.

Im just a fucked up girl looking for my own piece of mind.

Dont assign me yours.”

And the whole point of 500 Days of Summer

is that Tom is overlooking and intentionally misreading

Summers whole internal life and personality

I just dont feel comfortable being anyones girlfriend

Its Toms fault.

I think that if

you really pay attention, Toms not listening to Summer.”

The way these characters are interpreted

and misinterpreted by male characters

isnt a sexist accident on the part of the screenwriters;

its what the movies in question are about.

Branding real person Deschanel an MPDG

also doesnt make much sense,

as it suggests that her personality is a fantasy

created by some invisible male screenwriter.

Deconstruction is also the goal of Ruby Sparks,

where a writer invents his own Manic Pixie Dream Girl-type character

who somehow comes to life and his manipulative,

self-centered tendencies are exposed as he tries

to mold Ruby into his perfect woman.

At times, the movie is more a horror story than a love story.

I told you I could make you do anything.

I write it, you do it.”

Similarly, 2013s Her -- which might be

a certain kind of male fantasy --

is also a movie about that fantasy

and how it derives from loneliness.

The operating system named Samantha

is a quirky love interest so dedicated

to the lonely male lead Theodore

that she doesnt even have a separate physical presence

though because shes voiced by a beautiful actress,

Scarlett Johannson, she evokes the idea

of the attractive supportive womam.

"Tell me what's going through your mind,

tell me everything you're thinking."

But the movie ends with Samantha outgrowing Theodore

and ascending to a higher plane of consciousness

"The heart's not like a box that gets filled up.

It expands in size the more you love.

I'm different from you."

just as many of these exceptional women

do ultimately seem destined for a larger existence

separate from the men whose lives they briefly

deign to pass through.

Even after all this backlash and debate,

its fair to say that the Manic Pixie Dream Girl

is still with us.

Just look at the Disney Plus original movie Stargirl

where a quirky girl teaches a boring guy how to take risks

Are you ready for your surprise?”

I have no idea

and then disappears.

But tropes are not automatically bad,

and pointing them out doesnt invalidate a movie.

An exceptionally confident, unique and inspirational

female character isnt on its own an

expression of sexism.

If we condemn all female characters

who play the muse or who endear themselves to us

with their bold quirks, wed be throwing out many

stand-out performances, fictional creations

and real people.

Similarly, its not automatically the case that all deconstructions

of the MPDG trope are inherently superior

to straight-up examples.

The writer character in Ruby Sparks is so obviously a mess

that he becomes a case study, rather than a person.

Remember when dad used to say

I had an overactive imagination?”

Ruby Sparks being more self-aware about Manic Pixie Dream Girls

doesnt necessarily make it a more enjoyable movie

than something like Garden State, where Natalie Portmans acting

gives her character a sense of inner life

maybe more than the movie deserves.

Youre in it right now, arent you?”

On the opposite end, 500 Days of Summer

may be smart about how the male protagonist deludes himself,

yet that intended message didnt stop a huge number of viewers

from siding with Tom and vocally blaming Summer.

This suggests that the narrative was too myopic,

allowing viewers to feel Toms side of the story

and not effectively encouraging them to feel for Summer as well.

In a way, it says so much bysaying so little.”

The lines can also blur, as characters who are

apparently intended to deconstruct the trope

can easily end up embodying it.

I need you to drive the car, because I have nine things

I need to do tonight and more than half of them

require a getaway driver.”

More broadly, should we automatically

dismiss movie romances because they arent

always realistic,

or because they favor one point-of-view over another?

If theres an ultimate solution to the misuse of this trope,

its a greater diversity of voices coming together

to create characters and relationships,

ensuring that romantic heroines

arent so often conceived and written by men.

Many movies are some kind of fantasy.

But it does matter whos doing the fantasizing.

Hes my knight in shining armor!”

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The Description of The Manic Pixie Dream Girl Trope, Explained