The Manic Pixie Dream Girl 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. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is an all-or-nothing-proposition. Audiences either want to marry her instantly (despite The Manic Pixie Dream Girl being, you know, a fictional character) or they want to commit grievous bodily harm against them and their immediate family.
While Mr. Rabin is a film critic, there are plenty of Manic Pixie Dream Girls in literature–the literary MPDGs are nearly identical to cinematic MPDGs, but are deconstructed more often than their cinematic counterparts. You’ve encountered them–sweetly perky and “quirky” (according to the alternate style of the moment; liking classic rock seems to be en vogue at the moment) girls who exist solely to better the lives of the male lead, and who either end up happily with him or die a meaningful death. While they can be executed well, they’re usually not. There are two reasons for that–they’re static and often live only for the male lead.
When I was in middle school, I thought I encountered a Manic Pixie Dream Girl in Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl. Looking back on it now, I realize that the titular Stargirl isn’t a Manic Pixie Dream Girl at all. She’s not static–he’s a kid trying to work out her identity with very forgiving and supportive parents, and when she suffers backlash, she attempts to change herself. While it’s not much, it’s still enough to make her a dynamic character with a life outside of the male lead.
I still don’t like Stargirl, but that’s a matter for another time.
There’s nothing wrong with being a static character. Every character doesn’t need to change over the course of a story. For instance, Suki in Avatar: The Last Airbender is a static character, but it works because she’s already well-rounded enough–she doesn’t need to change. But should a static character figure so prominently as to be the female lead? (Incidentally, Suki is a minor character.) I don’t want to say that it can’t be done well, because in the right hands, it could. But I prefer to see dynamic main characters.
In any case, the bigger problem with the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is not her nature as a static character–there are plenty other stock characters who are. The bigger problem is that she doesn’t seem to exist as a whole character outside of the male lead.
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.
A lot of female love interests suffer from this, especially in young adult fiction, where the supposed quirkiness unique to Manic Pixie Dream Girls is especially emphasized. I have to admit, this is why I’m avoiding reading the works of John Green–while people whose opinion I trust gush about his novels, Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns appear to contain Manic Pixie Dream Girls. (They probably don’t, but that’s why I don’t read them.) Despite their supposed quirks (which are usually very mainstream), they don’t appear to exist as anything else but a love interest for the male lead, which makes them more of a love object.
This is why (500) Days of Summer works as a film–it subverts this trope. Tom, for whatever reason, doesn’t think Summer has a life outside of him, but she does. He doesn’t realize it until too late. Subversions and deconstructions like this are more common in literature (outside of young adult fiction). The Gargoyle‘s Marianne Engel puts the manic depression in Manic Pixie Dream Girl–while she’s static, she has a life outside of the name lead, but she also has a motive for her obsession with him. I like to see the Manic Pixie Dream Girl deconstructed, but, no matter how sweet, charming, and cute she is, she makes me frown when she’s played straight.
In other news, I’ve been sick for a few days, which means lying around the house, coughing out my lungs, and catching up on reading. I started A Game of Thrones on Friday, and it’s absolutely amazing so far. I thought 835 pages was pushing it, but I’m tearing through it. I hope the HBO series does it justice. I’ve started to sell some of my extra books on eBay, inspired by the usual late summer rush of people selling extraneous items in order to raise money for Dragon*Con–if you are so inclined, you may find my items here.
What’s your take on Manic Pixie Dream Girls?