The Manic Pixie Dream Girl Cliché

Monday, May 03

By Rocio Mourelos

I started watching New Girl last month and, in case you don’t know what I’m talking about, let me hand you the plot: Jessica Day is a teacher who breaks up with her 6-year-long boyfriend and moves to a loft with 3 men: Nick, a college drop-out with anger issues, Schmidt, a white boy desperate for women, and Winston, a black man who is looking for his vocation after his career as a basketball player in Latvia finishes. Don’t get me wrong: everyone in the show is super cool and lovable. But, if you start watching closely and paying attention, you’ll notice how Jessica, portrayed by the one and only Zooey Deschanel, is the one carrying the show. She’s a dreamer, a girl filled with joy who seems to light up everyone’s lives only with her presence. Men's lives are complete, thanks to her. That, my friends, is the Manic Pixie Dream Girl cliché.

The cinematographic journalist and criticist Nathan Rabin defines de Manic Pixie Dream Girl as "that bubbly, superficial, cinematic creature that exists only in the feverish imagination of sensitive writer-directors to teach intense youth to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures." Rabin’s definition has reached worldwide critic panorama. Any female character who showed spontaneity and harmless beauty was liable to be labeled as some kind of 'lovable maniac'. From Audrey Tautou's Amélie to Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind, or Kate Hudson in Almost Famous: all of them are reduced to a free spirit that, with its superficiality, saves the lover on duty from the boredom of the soap opera.

These false human representations have a particular way of dressing; they listen to alternative or unpopular music and are guided by strange theories and principles, all characteristics that indicate that "they are not like all girls". They do not care about the opinion of others and through this security and indifference they change the lives of people, especially that of the men at their side, who are usually lonely depressed, without personal or emotional aspirations, who after this cosmic encounter emerge ready to face life's challenges with a renewed perspective.

We can see this in (once again) Zooey Deschanel’s character in 500 Days of Summer. in which we have Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a miserable romantic who thinks that he will not be happy until he has found the love of his life, and Summer, a cynical and free woman with no interest in a relationship. She is attractive, with a particular fashion sense, good musical taste, and an effervescent personality. If we were to follow the superficial characteristics of an MPDG, Summer would certainly fall into the category. But throughout the plot, she shows us that she is not there based on anyone other than herself. She exercises his autonomy, regardless of Tom's emotions. She is her own person, with failures, goals, aspirations, and interests. Anyway, this is the reason why most people think Summer is the villain in the story when, in fact, there are no villains: they are simply not meant to be together, even though how hard they try.

Writing a perfect character, without personal history, imperfections, or problems, with the sole intention of improving someone else's life, makes invisible how complex and multidimensional human relationships are. It is sexist and reductive to think that any extravagant and particular woman fulfills the function of being attractive and useful for some male character. These are personal traits, such as shyness or introversion, and none of these respond to someone else's narrative.

At the end of the day, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is nothing more than a fantasy, and fantasies are not harmful on their own, but the value of a character is the life they bring to the screen, their possibilities in and out of the plot, and limiting it only to their romantic role reduces these heroines to secondary roles in the lives of their partners, which shouldn’t be portrayed in any movie. We have to avoid people thinking that this fictional scenario is real life. This is just one more way to realize there are things not working properly in society; there is still time to focus on what is vital for us: gender equality. And, by recognizing these characters and not sexualizing them in the process, I'm pretty sure we'll get there.

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