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This Week in Elitism: The Manic Pixie Dream Girl

I love finding archetypes in art, dissecting their meaning, and unlocking what they say about society as a whole. In my tutorial on Charles Dickens at Oxford, (pushes up horn-rimmed glasses) I came to the realization that practically every one of his protagonists has some turn of incredible luck. None of them receive success through hard work and perseverance alone, there's always some magnanimous benefactor to swoop in when all hope is lost. Of course, his main characters were honest and upright men, but British society was enraptured with the idea of good fortune taking them effortlessly out of their sorry lot in life. And it's important to know your audience.

So filmmakers in America have, with their knowledge of what men really want, created archetypal female characters who fulfill certain male desires, as unrealistic as they may be. I was delighted to hear about one such character on NPR last night [Editor's Note: the term originated from Nathan Rabin of The Onion's AV Club after he saw Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown], just at the point when I thought I would fall asleep at the wheel from all the talk about how our economy is tanking (I live on Main Street, not Wall Street! Honestly). The radio feature discussed the role of the "Manic Pixie Dream Girl," a persona inhibiting the scope of cinema from Bringing Up Baby with Katherine Hepburn, to Garden State with Natalie Portman.

The MPDG has an innocent, childlike wonder about the world. She doesn't have adult worries that hold back her sanguine attitude about life, nor does she have normal, tedious chores to do that might make her seem average, everyday, or normal. She's quirky. Her purpose in film is to unbutton the straight-laced man, to show him the joy in life he's missing out on, and release him from the status quo of daily labor. Some classic examples in include Kate Winslet's character in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, almost any role Goldie Hawn played (like one of my favorites, Housesitter), her daughter Kate Hudson in Almost Famous, Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's, and Barbara Streisand in What's Up, Doc? I loved watching two movie critics discuss the MPDG on the MPR website...to watch it, read the article, or listen to the radio broadcast, click here.

The article poses a question to its audience at the conclusion: what is the male equivalent- or is there one- to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl? Are there male characters whose sole purpose in film is to relax the uptight female characters? Let's take a look...

Kate & Leopold
Contrary to popular opinion, I thought this movie was cute. Meg Ryan is the work-obsessed, ugly-dressing, career woman who can't hold onto a man (and kind of looks like a man), who can't see that life is passing her by until a mystery man comes to the rescue (once literally, on a horse). He just happens to be an 18th century duke who went through a time continuum who looks like Hugh Jackman. He embodies chivalry, masculinity, and personal integrity, and teaches Kate to examine her life and get her priorities straight. Which includes her going back in time.

Character type: Uber-flawless Anachronistic Dream Hunk (UADH)

Like anyone poor and from Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin would be so rational. But that's what Leonardo Dicaprio was for Kate Winslet in this blockbuster. He's laid back, unassuming, and doesn't follow the rigid standards of upper-class life. He's the perfect foil for poor Rose, a character I really don't feel sorry for (there are ways to get around an arranged, money-driven match, if you know what I mean...) He's all ?Bohemian with his art and spitting, and motivates her to rebel. Of course, that eventually kills him, but not before he's served his cinematic purpose.

Character type: Poor-but-Upbeat Sexy Guy (PSG)

Ghostbusters, Part II
Maybe my favorite of the male versions of the MPDG is the comic relief guy. I mean, Sigourney Weaver was dating a weird Russian cellist guy before Bill Murray came back into her life. She was so uptight that she thought it was okay to name her son Oscar and get a perm. But he finally whittled away at her frozen heart by mocking the baby and haphazardly protecting her from demons.

Character type: Humorous Schlumpy Average-Joe-as-Protector Man (HSAM)

So let me know:

Are there any more? Is there one defining attribute that unites all these male characters?

And can there be anything more obnoxious than the Manic Pixie Dream Girl? Am I an MPDG?

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  1. Anonymous Anna | 10:01 PM |  

    The thing I hate about the Natalie Portman version of the manic pixie dream girl is that SHE ends up teaching the man about how to live, but actually if you were really like that, you would be practically insane. At least Eternal Sunshine, and Kate Winslet in her portrayal, shows how fucked up a person like that really is and how it can damage their relationships with others.

    I would also like to declare my undying devotion to Titanic. I've watched it twice (once with director's commentary, once without) in the last month or so and and I love it unironically. Thanks for using it as an example, Nicole! Jack Dawson 4 EVA!

  2. Blogger Sean | 1:31 AM |  

    i love mpdgs. they are soooo hot. they have ruined me for real girls.

    i will never find true happiness. i'm going to go start a fight club.

    wait. is marla singer an mpdg?

  3. Blogger chris | 1:48 PM |  

    Don't get me going on Garden State, Anna. There's few things in this life that upset me more.

    Good question, Sean. She kinda is, in a grungier more depressed kinda way. Reminds me of drug movie girls (Heather Graham in Drugstore Cowboy, Brittany Murphy in Spun)...I wonder what he correlation is there...

  4. Blogger Adam | 4:25 PM |  

    What upsets you more, Chris? Scrubs? That other, even crappier movie that Zach Braff made? What was it called . . . The Last Kiss!

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