1 Jul 2015


Films have formulas and rules, but how well do films follow those formulas?  Why do the Manic Pixie Dream Girl rules exist?

Why are MPDG films about a man?  Can't they be about the MPDG?  Or share the film's focus?  Or even be about a same-sex couple?

A:  The POV Character

When  Nathan Rabin coined the term, he called the MPDG "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."  You could say that by definition the MPDG is a male fantasy genre for the male's POV.  Then again most film is.

There's nothing wrong with an individual film being from a male perceptive, the problem occurs as the Bechdel Test illustrates when the market is dominated by film after film which is
male centered so that female-centered films are a rarity and ones that the female's role isn't wholly about a male character even rarer.
But leaving the bigger industry-wide problems aside, what is there inherent in the genre (if films containing this character type can be considered a genre) that means that they have to be centered on a male?

Well, no, not really.  Of the 10 films looked at there was one (Happy Go Lucky (2008)) that broke the rule completely by being about the MPDG.  One in 10 may not seem to bad (not good, but
still), but I specifically picked the film because it broke this rule.  Happy Go Lucky my not have been a completely successful film (unless it's aim was to be annoying) but it showed that it could be done.
Another film (also deliberately chosen for this feature) had a male MPDG:  Elf (2003)  When looking at this rule is both makes and breaks it.  Once again, the male was the center of the film.  But it's one of two films were the MPD character (male or female) was the center of the film.  It should probably be noted that in this film, although there's a serious female love interest
whose life is turned around, it's another male (the lead's father) who is the center of the changed-life story.

Four of the films actually gave the female character some solo screen time, but little and nothing compared to the male lead.

Usually the MPDG needs to be mysterious, the lead character needs to not know (possibly until the later reveal) why the character is how she is, leading to the audience being draw to her by the same sense of intrigue that the main character has.  In theory.  Elf breaks that rule but explaining to the audience straight up what's with the character (he was raised by Santa's Elves and thinks he is one) and plays the rest of the film as a straight fish-out-of-water comedy.  So there's a way around the formula of the remoteness of the MPDG, but it's rarely done (and mostly for males).

So, mostly they need to be about the person viewing the MPDG, rather than the MPDG, fine.  But
there's really nothing to say that a male couldn't be the MPDG character and the film centered on a female lead having there life changed by the kookie male.  Such films exist, but aren't usually seen as MPDG films but other sorts of films: romances, chick flicks or slacker films.  There are societal pressures for it to be a lead male and a MPDG female: the idea of the male as the serious one with a job and a serious life (and needing to become better in touch with his emotions) and the free spirited female.  Some may even suggest that the reverse film is another example of movies brining down and undermining the successful female and the woman changing to please a man.

B:  Unhappy

This is just there for obvious story arc reasons.  If he has unhappiness in him, if he doesn't like his life she's really rescuing him, not ruining his life or changing him, but really helping him find his true self.  The "things" he loses are just things: job, a shallow relationship, home, car, money.  Losing things is important to the finding of one's true self (ask the nearest hippy).  The bereavement just helps make a truly cathartic moment and a real crossroads.


While the male being the center completely or almost completely is necessary for particular films to tell the story they want to tell, it doesn't seem that this is the only way to tell a story involving a Manic Pixie Dream Girl... however, there are few examples of people actually trying to tell it a different way.

~ DUG.

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