Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl

The manic pixie dream girl is a female trope that frequently turns up in popular culture. Appearing in books such as  The Perks of Being a Wallflower, movies such as  500 Days of Summer (or anything Zooey Deshanel is in), and TV shows such as Skins, the manic pixie dream girl often serves as inspiration and an escape for the male lead character. She is characterized by her quirkiness, craziness, childishness, and her carefree attitude on life. Unfortunately despite all her “uniqueness” that sets her apart from the rest of the world, the manic pixie dream girl often falls flat as a character. Too often one dimensional, with no desires, dreams, or conflicts of her own, this trope enters the story in order to move the male lead along. This is most prevalent in romantic comedies/ romance movies where the female lead character meets the grumpy, closed-off male lead. She is childlike, quirky, and full of life, while he is cynical and sullen. The male lead reveals that he has been hurt once and that despite his hard exterior, he has a soft inside. The manic pixie dream girl eventually gets him to open up and love life again, giving the movie a happy ending. 27 Dresses features Jane, who is a more grounded version of the manic pixie dream girl. She is kind to everyone, including her self-centered and whiny younger sister, and has kept all 27 of her bridesmaid dresses. She eventually gets the male lead, a cynical writer who has had his heart stomped on, to open up after drunkenly singing a rendition of “Bennie and the Jets” with him in a bar. Similarly, Leslie (though too young to be a love interest) from Bridge to Terabithia is a manic pixie dream girl trope in the sense that she is solely there to inspire Jesse to live his life to the fullest. Her death, then, becomes far more tragic, and she becomes something of a hero and idol to Jesse.

            The problem with this trope is that once oversimplified, the character becomes flat, one dimensional, and somewhat of a Mary Sue. The manic pixie dream girl trope has been criticized by film critic, Nathan Rabin, as being "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". She often has little character development, acting as a Peter Pan-like character that never grows up, existing only to restore youth and happiness to surrounding characters. Thus, looking at this trope through a gender lens, this particular female character trope generally implies that a women’s sole purpose is to act as an angel and muse for men, providing comfort and vitality to those who see the harsher realities of the world. “Unique”, childish, and always aesthetically pleasing and pretty, the manic pixie dream girl is much like a doll. Although she can sometimes be stubborn (but always in a “cute” way that makes the man fall in love), for the most part, this character is passive, sweet, and holds few flaws. 

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