The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a well-known pop-culture cliché. The term was coined by critic Nathan Rabin in his review of 2005’s Elizabethtown to describe the cheerful, bubbly flight attendant played by Kirsten Dunst. Since then, this character type has been analyzed everywhere, from XoJane to Slate to the Guardian. A list of film examples of the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” includes roles played by everyone from Barbra Streisand to Natalie Portman to both Hepburns (Audrey and Katharine). Rabin claimed that the MPDG “exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries.”
– Hugo Schwyzer, “The Real World Consequences of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl Cliche”
Can the Pixie retire? Is the Pixie self-aware? Did the Pixie get the joke all along?
(Laurie Penny’s take on this is insightful. In her piece for the The New Statesman titled “I Was a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, she observes: Men grow up expecting to be the hero of their own story. Women grow up expecting to be the supporting actress in somebody else’s.)
Is the first step in retirement discovering or admitting that one is, indeed, a manic pixie dream girl? And what happens upon such discovery? Can one become a different sort of film heroine?
More importantly, how does this end?
In the film version, the camera follows the young man’s story of transformation, so we never really know what happens to The Girl. I suppose the point is really that she’s not A Real Girl. She’s just a construct; a means to an end.
As am I.
I have been A Coming Out Party. The Thirteenth Step. A Starter Wife. A Midlife Crisis.
The arc of the story is always a bit different, but the underlying tale is the same each time. There are adventures along the way; cinematic kisses in unexpected locations all over the world. There are long drives, and beach bonfires, and romantic dinners, and starry nights, and goodbyes on the jetway like it’s still the era before the terrorists won.
But TL;DR — here’s the plot summary: He learns to let go, and so he lets go of me. He becomes The Man He Should Be – for himself, for the Right Woman, Plain and Tall. The End.
And so…I’m a fun, quirky, pint-sized cliché. In so many ways, this is — or has been — me.
I am not saying anything new, or adding anything to the discourse around this topic. This brief piece adds absolutely nothing to the feminist, or literary, or film criticism out there picking apart the construct. In my case, it’s merely a case of Identifying A Thing, and Dismissing A Thing.
But the Thing about Things is this:
You can’t do anything about them unless you know they exist.
Which I do.