By: Jazlyn Moock
I am a hopeless romantic, through and through. I have always had wild fantasies of what love would be like and have looked up to the adorable and seemingly perfect couples of rom-com movies. The more romances I watched, the more I yearned to be like those quirky, beautiful, energetic girlfriends that change the lives of the male protagonist, that teach them how to love and enjoy life.
Belonging to someone, specifically as a whimsical fairy, barbie doll, princess of a person, seemed like the narrative I wanted to live in. Essentially, I desired to assume the life of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. However, the only problem, these fantasy girls are exactly that, a fantasy. They are a dangerous lie and a detriment to any who believes in their enticing, magical falsities.
After film critic Nathan Rabin watched the 2005 movie, Elizabethtown, the term Manic Pixie Dream Girl was born. In his review, Rabin highlighted the common tendency of directors to create one-dimensional female characters that only exist to develop the male lead. Hence, Manic Pixie Dream Girls, according to Rabin, are defined as these love-interests that “exist solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” MPDGs are eccentric, girlish, and wacky and are created to help their men without having their own complexities or desires.
Stars such as Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn paved the way for the manic pixie dream girl famously being casted as playful and contagiously effervescent, yet only for the benefit and happiness of the man to which they are completely dependent on. Other examples of the MPDG include: Natalie Portman in Garden State, Charize Theron in Sweet November, Jennifer Aniston in Along Came Polly, Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, Zooey Deschanel in Yes Man, Juliette Lewis in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Sarah Jessica Parker in L.A. Story, Helena Bonham Carter in Fight Club, Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Penelope Cruz in Vanilla Sky, Grace VanderWaal in Stargirl, Mila Kunis in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Kate Hudson in Almost Famous, Paige O’Hara in Beauty and the Beast; the list goes on. The common thread between these films manifests in these characters that merely show up to transform the male character in the form of bubbly arm candy with no depth or autonomy as real women.
Manic Pixie Dream Girls were coined as girls for a reason, as they are not and will not ever be women. Real women, like all people, have hopes, emotions, and problems of their own. They are too complex to fit into the minuscule box of the MPDG; they are too human to be perfect magical helpers in a director’s plot or a significant other’s romanticized dream.
The true concern of this trope is not that it ruins movies or is bad writing–even though it definitely is– the true danger is that it teaches audiences unrealistic expectations and places pressure upon people to take up the role of “savior” in the relationship. Arguably one of the most powerful influences on modern society, the film industry shapes how we view the world and, thus, how we live in this world. Fiction creates real life, and the more our generations encounter fictional, submissive, overly-simplified women, the more real women will feel pushed into this persona, pushed into one-sided relationships where they can end up feeling used and discarded. While placed on the inconceivable pedestal of a MPDG, regular girls’ flaws can feel fake or invalidated, they can feel like a disappointment when not living up to the movies’ dream.
While it is less common, there are examples of Manic Pixie Dream Boys as well, such as Augustus Waters in the Fault in Our Stars and Ben Wyatt in Parks and Recreation. Regardless of the gender of the manic pixie, they are detrimental to the impressionable minds and hearts of those in the search of love or salvation; little do they know that these pretty dream people accomplish neither, not truly. Being a MPDG will not bring respect and appreciation for who you truly are and wanting to be with one will not truly bring happiness or transform you. In this sense, men too can be negatively impacted by the trope since it drills into their brains that they themselves cannot learn to embrace the beauties of life and experience dazzling, joyous adventures. A perfect relationship has to “fix” them instead of their own discovery of self-love and self-expression.
In the end, we all just want to feel loved, and even though the manic pixie dream may seem like the route to this goal, cemented from the decades of misogynistic movies, in reality they are a feverish nightmare to any real human with real emotion not living solely for the screen.