Why Manic Pixie Dream girl doesn’t work anymore.

The guy never saves the girl. The girl saved herself first and then proceed to save the guy. How many movies have you seen where the female character is unconventional, free spirit, dress the way she likes it and its not looking to save anyone, but end up changing the entire male character’s life? I have seen quite a few and when I was looking for a movie to my inspiring list last week, I came across a term, the stereotypes described above actually has a name: Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a term first used by Nathan Rabin, the AV Club TV and movie critic, describe Claire, from Elizabethtown (2005). The character played by Kirsten Dunst, was created to push Orlando Bloom’s character forward, as he is in a completely entranced after losing his job, his dad died, his girlfriend dumped him and he is becoming borderline suicidal. Until he meets Claire, a flight attendant on his way to Kentucky. She is smart, funny and spontaneous, everything that is lacking on him. That’s where the term originated from. Claire is there to save him, only and solely purpose is to give Drew’s life a new meaning. She is not the only one on the trope. Before Claire, we had Sara, from Sweet November (2001), who saved Keanu Reeves in November, just to tell him (spoiler alert) she had cancer at the end of the month. A few years before that, we had Jude Maxwell from 1972 What’s up, Doc? with Barbara Streisand, playing one the first hilarious MPDG.  

MPDG is written by an imaginative male screenwriter’s mind, who uses whatever he thinks is ok for a dream girl to be in the story. This girl stereotype only exists in the guys’ mind and he fabricates about her being a perfect savior. So, she is written as quirky, have a fun style, a weird taste in music and her personality is entertaining, so the guy, who is usually a boring, workaholic, depressed character, indulge in some fun activities and recover his will to live.  Take “500 days of Summer” for example. Summer is almost seen as an Anti-Manic, because she is only perfect inside Tom’s mind. She was very honest from the beginning, letting him know that she didn’t want to be in a relationship, but Tom created a different person to idolize, then the one he was dating. When Summer decided to move on, she crushes his dream girl fantasy, destroying him. Tom was in love with the girl he created in his mind.

The latest addition to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope is “Stargirl”. It was released on Disney+ in March of 2020 and it’s played by singer and song writer Grace Vanderwall. The movie is an adaptation of the book with the same name, first published in 2000 and written by Jerry Spinelly. In the movie, Stargirl shows up mysteriously at school, after being homeschooled her entire life and eager to make friends. She plays the ukulele in a very upbeat version of “Be true to your school” by the Bestie Boys, dresses up with clothes made by her mom and of course, catches the attention the marching band trumpeter. Leo Burlock is calm, collected teenager, who prefers not be in the spotlight, but Stargirl mystically changes that. The Gen-Z version of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope doesn’t disappoint when she comes out as the boy savior. She shows up out of nowhere, improve the guy’s life with confidence and leave.

There are plenty of other examples of this type of characters. I would like to understand why the Hollywood industry, aka male screenwriters, thinks it’s ok to have a character that works like a balloon attached to the main character. The only purpose being elevate the guy’s environment, and not having any attachments in life, a backstory or an interesting storyline.  Why don’t they give the girl in the movie a purpose? Probably because it would take the attention away from whoever they think the audience is. I don’t know who came up with the idea that the girl have to be the savior. Maybe because the audience is entirely female, so the screenwriters/directors think we are dazed and would fall for that type of guy in real life? I don’t think this would work these days. Yes, it’s fun to watch, but where do they get the idea we are all like that from? So, I suggest you, if you are a guy, write your female character with an intention in life. Make her interesting and go beyond her weirdness and looks. Also, write her with inside of the diversity content.

Thankfully the world is changing. Quirky female characters without a storyline, who the only purpose in life it is to empower the guy, are now only working on Adam Sandler’s movies. As people become more aware with the “woke generation”, the “cancel culture”, this type of characters will not be accepted for much longer. When a female character is written by a woman, you see the difference, she is usually the other side of the trope. If I dare to say, it’s the woman who prioritize her career and also don’t have time to fool around with anybody.  

The character I’m writing, for what I hopefully come out as a web series someday, is a very self-sufficient, achiever type of girl. She is definitely inspired by Summer and all the other Manic Pixie Dream Girl, as she only looks after herself and do whatever she wants. Bea is not there to save anyone but herself. In the late 90’s, she moves to Hollywood to pursue her American dream without any strings attached. Well, kind of.  I’m having a lot of fun writing the outline and the characters bible. I guess the hardest part is actually being away from distractions.

Anyway, I would like to know, how would you write a female character?  Do you have anyone who is your idea is based on? Another question is: where do you get your ideas from? Let me know in the comments, it would be fun to discuss!

See you next week!

J.G Snelly.

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply