75 Years of Manic Pixie Dream Girls Raises Question Of What They Are
No comments yetJul 26, 2012
By Alex Cranz
The folks at Flavorwire put together a very funny video of some very notable “Manic Pixie Dream Girls” dating all the way back to the original one, Katherine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby.
The video does a good job of pointing out some writer/directors who use the Manic Pixie Dream Girl as a crutch (Cameron Crowe and Woody Allen specifically) and it spans an impressive period of time as Baby came out back in the 30s.
But there’s one very glaring omission if you’re using such a broad version of the term that you’d include characters from The Sound of Music and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.
Shirley MacLaine’s Fran from The Apartment. Like the other women in the video she’s ostensibly there to “improve” a male character and pull him out of his shell. She’s puckish. Fun. With a dark underbelly. Heck MacLaine even has the pixie haircut going for her!
It may be because MacLaine’s character in The Apartment is a lampooning of the perfect girl next door, of which the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a subtype.
When Nathan Rabin first coined the term he described it as thus:
“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”
Over the years Rabin and other critics have added more women to the list of MPDGs. What once an astute criticism of a tired stereotype that hurts women, has now become a blanket term to immediately dismiss the characterization of women.
Which is why the heroines of Sound of Music and Beauty and the Beast both appear alongside more traditional MPDGs like the “heroines” of Elizabethtown and Garden State.
In the former two the women drive the story. More than being the heroines they’re the central characters of their respective narratives. Boiling them down to their relationships with the men in their lives is incredibly damaging. But Flavorwire didn’t start that trend.
Back in 2010 Rabin was asked to create another list of Manic Pixie Dream Girls and he somehow managed to include not one but two Preston Sturges heroines on his list (somewhere Sturges is soused and also rolling in his grave). Barbara Stanwyck’s character in The Lady Eve and one of Claudette Colbert’s characters (she plays twins) in The Palm Beach Story.
Including these two women, or any woman who simply ignites a transformation in another character, as Manic Pixie Dream Girls muddies the waters of the definition. It broadens it simply to include any woman who is sort of kooky and dates a man who is sort of straight-laced. By this broader definition Sherlock Holmes and Richard Castle are Manic Pixie Dream Boys.