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?
The term Manic Pixie Dream Girl was coined by Nathan Rabin after seeing Kirsten Dunst in the 2005 film Elizabethtown to describe a recurring type of female love interest in cinema, calling it: "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." He now regrets ever doing so. Many characters are sited as examples, or contested, and the archetype is often attacked for being a one-dimensional character only serving the male's story and others claim the archetype should stop or is already dead. But lets look at what makes a MPDG.
The MPDG is obviously female, but the major complaint about the character is subservient to the male lead's goals and desires. As such I'm leading with the male.
1a. POV Character - While Rom Coms are (usually) balanced between the main couple, the MPDG film is about the male character and most scenes will feature him. I'll also apply a couple of tests to the film (and her character specifically) to see whether these are male-centric films, and especially apply them to the MPDG herself:
- The Bechdel Test - Do two named female characters have a conversation that is not about a male.
- The Mako Mori Test - At least one female character who gets her own narrative arc that is not about supporting a man’s story.
1b. Unhappy - So she can turn his life around, he needs to be unhappy.
i. His will not like his job, or will have lost his job (whether he liked it or not)
ii. He will not like his girlfriend, or will have been dumped by the girlfriend (whether he liked her or not)
iii. He will lose his apartment, car, etc.
iv. May have suffered a berevement.
v. He will want more out of life but not know what.
vi. All this will happen on the same day.
The MPDG is simulateously sexual and asexual and "free". As such either nudity isn't raised or she will see it as something casual/non-sexual; will participate in skinny-dipping, will feel free changing in front of the male character. Although she may get naked in the film, the MPDG's nudity will usually be suggested, not shown.
The film will be romantic (on some level he falls for her, she will have a romance with life) and a comedy (her antics, his embarassment/confusion), but may not necessarily be romantic comedies and especially not ROM COMS. They may, in fact, be dramas.
|Stranger Than Fiction|
4a. Full of energy - a bubbling ball of enthusiasm.
4b. Full of contradictions - Just to confuse things.
i. Fun, but with a secret/serious side/be damaged/reason for her behaviour.
ii. Sexual/asexual, a casual sexuality that will usually not actually involve sex at all (see Rule #2)
iii. Romantic/shunning romance.
iv. Honest & open/hiding a secret.
4c. Free - Or carefree. Sings/shouts/dances in public.
4d. Quirky - Crazy/Wild/Weird/Unique/Akward.
4e. Unusual Things
i. Clothing, especially hats & socks and colourful.
ii. Transport, especially a scooter.
iii. House/living arrangements.
iv. Job, often with children or animals.
v. Objects or instruments, like a Ukulele.
vi. Will make mix-tapes.
vi. Will make mix-tapes.
5a. Tiny - small in size (short, thin and svelte).
5b. Cute features - short hair, button nose and big eyes.
5c. Clothing - Light & flowing.
|Scott Pilgrim vs The World|
Obviously "Dream Girl" is meant to be together, but I'm trying be clever and do a thing where each word is a rule. Play along.
6a. Dream Girl - An unreal unobtainable girl. Although the film may start with the hero believing someone else is the girl of his dreams, the MPDG will usurp her place in his heart.
6b. Dream-like - All of the Manic-ness and Pixie-ness combined with the male lead's ennui makes the MPDG fairly dream-like.
|The New Girl|
7a. Female - by definition. Although there are some examples of males filling the role.
7b. Girlish - She will be adult, but young. But, as implied by MANIC and PIXIE childlish girlish rather than womanly.
Despite his protests he will insinuate herself into his life and change it for the better. She has no real goals, dreams or life of her own.
There will be a secret reason for her being the way she is. She will be dying, have been abused or have some sort of trust issues which will be responsible for her becoming the way she is.
BITTERSWEET ENDING/NO SEQUEL
Autumn in New York
Rather than the happy ending of the Rom Com, they may not get together. He has undergone the change he needs and doesn't need her anymore, although he thinks he does. She will recognise that and leave him. Or her damage will leave her unable to commit. Or she will die (see Rule #8.) Obviously some will end up together, but we'll leave them as exceptions.
As with most romances there won't be a sequel.
As with previous sets of rules, this is a provisional list. Some changes can/will be made. The list is picked with the hope of covering a range of variations of the character, but no guarantees can be made.
- Elizabethtown (2005): The film that lead to the name, so it would be foolish not to look at it.
- Bringing Up Baby (1938): A contested example (and I love those) claimed to either be one of the earliest examples or an over-reach of the term.
- Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961): Another claimed early example.
- Something Wild (1986): A dangerous example.
- Sweet November (2001): A dying example.
- Elf (2003): A male example.
- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004): Seen as an example or counter-example because she rejects just being there for the guy.
- Garden State (2004): A standard example.
- Happy Go Lucky (2008): A film centred on the MPDG, not a male.
- (500) Days of Summer (2009): A claimed example.
What do you think of the rules? Are they fair? Any obvious omissions or glaring mistakes? Any rules that you know don't work or predictions of rules that will fail or succeed?
And what of the film list, any that *need* to be added beyond the ten? Any "categories" that need to be added or tested? Any films that shouldn't be there?
Remember to vote here to help choose the fifth set of rules to be tested.