08 January 2010
Trends: Manic Pixie Dream Girls, 2004 - Present
Today I'd like to talk about something that is very important to every man and woman in the world. I speak of course, of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, or MPDG. According to this accurate article, the term is derived from critic Nathan Rabin's review of Kristen Dunst in Elizabethtown (2005). He describes it as "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." In response to today's premiere of Youth in Revolt (2010), which I have not seen but looks slightly interesting and I presume to contain a version of the MPDG, let us now descend into a look at every stiff man's fantasy (hey oh), the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
This stock character dates back very very far in cinematic history. Some version is present both in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) and Annie Hall (1977). In both films the girl is a wild and free spirit who unchains the stuffy male character. Since both are also very good films as well, the MPDG was set as a great way to make some fun character arcs to guarded, brooding angry males, thus providing hilarious romantic comedy situations for years and years to come. Oh crackerjack.
The easiest way to understand this trope is to look at Natalie Portman in Garden State (2004). I should really be able to stop this post here now. It's a fantasy for that emotionally and socially maladjusted male to find the cute, quirky funny girl that will liberate all of their inhibitions and then scream shit on car hoods in the rain or something. Again, there is the aforementioned Elizabethtown, as well as Along Came Polly (2004) is an absolutely fabulous example of a free-spirited woman loosening up the business-minded man. Almost Famous (2000) with Kate Hudson's portal to the world of rock 'n' roll against the safe suburban domicile is another great example. Not to mention Mila "Jackie" Kunis in Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008). This list is actually endless.
I really loved I Love You, Man (2009) for spinning the MPDG on its head, using Jason Segel as the MPDG to the socially-awkward-with-men Paul Rudd. If that film was done the same way with a girl in that Jason Segel role, it would have been the most typical romantic comedy ever. The Bromance, as it were, puts it on a different playing field and loosens the trope to something like "people teaching other people how to be more spiritually unhinged" instead of "girl teaches boy," which is pretty cool. This was also a film by John Hamburg, the same director as Along Came Polly. Fun stuff.
Youth in Revolt seems interesting because the just of it that I'm getting is that the chick in it is at least more sexually experienced than Michael Cera (or at least appears that way to him), which forces a shift in his awkward personality. This shift however, is quite literal, causing him to make an entirely new persona. Whether or not the girl fulfills all the characteristics of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is yet to be seen (ie, she should be very peppy, approachable, talkative and listen to a constant stream of indie music). We'll just have to see.