Film genres have formulas and rules, but how well do films follow those formulas? What about the Manic Pixie Dream Girl character, does she have rules?
Elizabethtown (2005) – the film that caused the term Manic Pixie Dream Girl to be created.
RULE #1 - THE MAN
1a. POV Character - The film is all about Drew (Orlando Bloom). It starts with a brief scene of low-level employees, but it's mostly Drew from then on. Clare (Kirsten Dunst) doesn't appear until 15 minutes into the film and from only has a brief scene before only sharing the screen with Drew, except for the other side of a phonecall with him and a walk of shame. In remains mostly Drew throughout the film. Cousin Jesse gets a moment of solo story, discussing parenting with his father. Drew's mother, Hollie (Susan Sarandon), gets a moment learning to fix a car and a major speech. Clare has a life – a job, possibly a boyfriend, she has an interview with personnel at work, but these things are going on in the background, they're discussed, not seen. She has no friends that we see (one is mentioned) and her friendship with Cindy occurs off-screen, whereas Drew's with Chuck is played out. Her description of herself and Drew as “substitutes” certainly applies to the notion that she, as a MPDG, has no real life beyond the male character.
The Bechdel Test: Drew's mother, Hollie, tries fixing car, and his sister, Heather, screams “what are you doing?” Mother gives thumbs up. Cindy talks to a group of unnamed friends about planning a wedding and Clare. Cindy tells Clare that she wants to see her on the tour maker's mark tomorrow. Even if you force the issue and say that somewhere in there it the film passes the test, Clare doesn't.
The Mako Mori Test: Hollie actually seems to have an arc of her own. She discovers what she wants to do with her life after the loss of her husband. Most of her arc occurs in the background of calls between Drew and Heather but is outlined in Hollie's big speech. It's more tell than show, but it's there. Clare, though, fails the test as her arc is to find happiness with Drew.
1b. Unhappy – Creates a suicide machine, which could indicate a level of unhappiness. His unhappiness is caused by:
i. Job – lost his job after designing a shoe that failed.
ii. Relationship – His girlfriend sort of came with the job and success.
ii. Belongings – Throws out his belongings in preparation for suicide.
iv. Bereavement – His father died.
v. Life – Discovered success was the only important thing. Didn't seem convinced.
vi. All this happened on the same day.
RULE #2 - T &A
Bubble bath and sleepwear shots of Dunst (no nudity). Cut from kissing to waking up together implying sex. Rom-com level nudity and sex.
RULE #3 - GENRE
Elizabethtown is a personal journey film, a belated coming-of-age film or more specificially a film equivalent of a Entwicklungsroman with an older protagonist. But being film it's boils down to a romantic comedy drama. Being very loosely a Rom Com and since I still have those rules lying around, I'm going to quickly apply them:
1. Not balanced (see #1a above,) being about the male. The couple are opposites, which is pretty definitional for a MPDG film (although Clare says they both substitutes). His cousin is a quirky friend character, and his mother and sister also fill those roles. She has no friends shown. He has an ex and she may have a boyfriend. Partially followed.
2. See #2 above, Rom-com level nudity. Followed.
3. She upgrades him to first class to make her job easier. Vaguely meet-cute. Partially followed.
4. No real circumstances keep them apart. Distance and “Ben” perhaps until after they have sex, then things are briefly awkward. Partially followed.
5. She realises she loves him certainly before the sex, but only goes as far as saying “likes” and after sex expects him to say he loves her, which he doesn't. Followed.
6. His inability to commit to the relationship or admit feelings eventually causes a brief separation (which was going to happen anyway, really) Partially followed.
7. There was always the assumption that they wouldn't see each other again every time they separated (his obsession with last looks) or they'd remain friends. Partially followed.
8. No real redemeption as no real redemption is needed. Not applicable.
9. Happily ever after - see rule #10 below. Followed.
10. No sequel - see #10 below. Followed.
RULE #4 - MANIC
4a. Full of energy - a bubbling ball of enthusiasm.
4b. Full of contradictions
i. Fun, but with a feels like a substitute.
iii. Romantic/shunning romance – Romantic, but likes to be alone.
v. Smart/dizzy – comes off as shallow, but shows wisdom in conversation.
4c. Carefree - Not really. Bubbly and jumps around, seems to connect easily with people but usually behaves normally in public.
4d. Quirky - Calls herself “a student of names,” takes imaginary photos of people, loves trees (and has a favourite) and has an appreciation for life, people and places. Made a mix-tape/scrapbook/tour guide.
4e. Unusual Things
i. Clothing – Mostly normal clothes. An unlucky dress and lots of red hats.
ii. Transport – Cars. Pretty normal.
iii. House – Standard looking house.
iv. Job – Flight Attendant: a job that makes use of being good with people, bubbly and flightiness of a MPDG. Although she doesn't work with children, is able to offer advice for raising them.
v. Objects – Nothing stands out.
vi. Mix-Tape - makes one and a scrap-book/tourist guide.
RULE #5 - PIXIE
5b. Cute features - long hair, but tied back to look short while in uniform. Button nose and big eyes.
5c. Girlish - Beyond big eyes and loving life, nothing child-like.
5d. Clothing - Causal, but not pixie-ish.
RULE #6 - DREAM
6a. Dream Girl - More a girl-next door that he just clicks with than a dream girl. His obsession with the looks she gives may count.
6b. Dream-like - The meeting half way, especially when they're both without sleep is possibly dream-like. The tour-guide-mix-tape ending certainly “magical” enough to be dream-like.
RULE #7 - GIRL
7a. Female - Yes, she is.
7b. Girlish - As stated above, only slightly.
RULE #8 - HIS LIFE
She forced him into a one-sided conversation on the plane. She gives him her number (multiple numbers) and when other people don't call him back immediately, her calls her. They bond over the call. She has no real goals, dreams or life of her own. She cancels her holiday for him: “How could I leave you in distress?” His life is already undergoing a change (or potentially ending) and she steers it into a better direction.
RULE #9 - SECRET
His life is an open book to her. Hers isn't for him. She talks about Ben, but there's a question as to whether he even exists.
RULE #10 - BITTERSWEET ENDING/NO SEQUEL
They get together at the end, and he seems to accept that he doesn't need success, so a happy ending not really bittersweet (but the lead up is). No sequel because it's a romance and because it wasn't really a success.
Rules followed by this film: 1, 2, 3, 8, 9.
Rules partially followed by this film: 4. 5, 6, 7, 10.
Certainly hits most of the rules, unsurprisingly being the film that named the genre. The weird part is that Clare wasn't as exaggerated a character as most MPDGs only partially following most of the cliches that the characters follow, more part way between the normal female in a romantic film and the MPDG.
Remember to vote here to help choose the fifth set of rules to be tested.