By Ameerah Angelina
Imagine an eccentric, outgoing and quirky girl meeting a guy who hardly knows the meaning of fun and she selflessly devotes herself to teach him how to live his life through numerous adventures while helping him grow as a person.
If this sounds familiar, you have seen your fair share of Manic Pixie Dream Girls.
Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a term coined by film critic Nathan Rabin in 2007 in his review of Elizabethtown (2005) to classify Kristen Dunst’s role in the film. According to Rabin (2007), this term refers to:
“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 other words, Manic Pixie Dream Girl refers to female stock characters whose sole purpose, in the film or book, is to help the typically moody – sometimes boring or nerdy – male protagonists enjoy their lives. Usually, these female characters are beautiful and seemingly perfect, making them the love interest in the story, but they do not always end up together with the male protagonist.
It is also important to note that a Manic Pixie Dream Girl character only exists to please and help the male protagonist achieve happiness without ever having her own personal goals in the story.
As such, Rabin has coined this term to raise the awareness of writer-directors of this objectification of female characters in their writings, exposing the sexist real-world implications of superficial female characterisations in male-dominated journeys.
Men could grow up expecting women to be their supporting actress in their story, always being there for them to help them achieve their personal goals. A few examples of such characters are Margo from Paper Town (2015), Allison from Yes Man (2008), Kim from The Last Kiss (2006), and the oldest one recorded being Susan Vance from Bringing Up Baby (1938).
Despite Manic Pixie Dream Girl being coined to expose the sexism in modern culture, these days, the term itself has been seen as sexist as it lost its feminist meaning when people started misusing it. Many would label a female character as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl so long as she is quirky and adventurous, even when the character is, in truth, well-rounded and well-developed.
Some people would even go as far as to use this label on real life women, which is extremely demeaning and offensive as every human is complex with their own goals and desires. The negativity associated with this term has caused Rabin to express his regrets in coming up with Manic Pixie Dream Girl in an article written in 2014.
Even so, there are several films that have tried to deconstruct this trope. One famous example would be 500 Days of Summer (2009). The character of Summer in this movie is often identified as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl because she is seen as perfect with the typical bubbly personality and is the reason Tom is able to develop and grow as a person.
However, the only reason Summer is usually mistaken to fall under this trope is because this entire film – every scene, character and action – is seen through Tom’s perspective. We see Summer in Tom’s eyes and Tom sees Summer as a woman who exists solely for himself. We fail to remember that this movie is not a love story; it is a coming of age story starring Tom.
This movie is a deconstruction of the trope because it shows the dangers of idealising women as objects, instead of respecting them as a real and complex person. Tom failed to see Summer as her own person, and thus, (major spoiler alert) he lost her.
Conclusively, Manic Pixie Dream Girl has become a trope created by Rabin with the good intention of raising awareness of the sexism that has long existed in the entertainment industry.
While the creation of this term has brought to light the issue of female objectification, it has also received backlash due to the misuse of this term on well-loved female characters as well as real life women.
Regardless, this trope has made many realise that women do not serve as catalysts for the maturation of men; women deserve to be the hero in their own story. ***