When I decided I was going to write a blog about female representation in movies and television, I knew the manic pixie dream girl would make its way in there sometime. Many people feel this trope is unfair and sexist and that no actual woman is like that. And while I agree with this to an extent, I find the manic pixie dream girl interesting as a character.
What exactly is the manic pixie dream girl? Usually this character exists as a romantic interest of a male protagonist who feels as if he lives a mundane life. She is always energetic, often characterized as quirky and impulsive. In many cases, she exists to bring adventure to the male protagonists’ life.
So while many see the purpose of this character as being an empty female who doesn’t think logically and lives her life of adventure, I feel that they also don’t keep in mind an important factor in the existence of this trope: the mundane male protagonist.
In order for the manic pixie dream girl to exist, the male character has to be living an empty life. Is this not somewhat of a stereotype in itself?
The mundane, boring man who gets swept off his feet by the manic pixie dream girl is just as much a trope as she is.
This simple fact is what makes me not despise the manic pixie dream girl, as I know many do.
At the end of the day, the male protagonist needs saving, and that is what the manic pixie dream girl does; she saves him from his mundane life. In this case, the manic pixie dream girl is somewhat of a hero for the ordinary in the context of the story. The protagonist needs saving just as a damsel in distress in a superhero movie. In fact, I would even compare a damsel in distress to the mundane male. They both are saved by characters who don’t really exist in the real world. In reality, there is no superhero or prince charming to save the damsel from the villain or tower, just as there is no quirky girl skipping around ready to bring adventure to the life of the mundane male.
These characters exist for the purpose of there be a character needing to be save and another to save them.
This is why the mundane male and the manic pixie dream girl only really exist in fictional love stories.
The two movies that jump out to me are “500 Days of Summer” and “Ruby Sparks”. Both are highly character driven love stories.
The beginning of “500 Days of Summer” claims that it is not a love story, but I believe it is one. Not all love stories have to end well, and not all love stories have to involve both characters being in love. “500 Days of Summer” tries to break down the manic pixie dream girl in a way. The audience’s perspective of the film is through Tom, who sees Summer as the perfect girl for him. He works at a simple job, simple life, and Summer sweeps him off his feet and brings new perspective and adventure to his life. She makes him feel alive. In the end, their relationship does not work out because Summer isn’t just this object in Tom’s life- she has a story of her own that we do not see. This breaks her of this stereotype. But we only get that at the end of the film. If this film was not a love story of Tom and Summer, and we instead just focused on Summer, she would most likely not fit into the manic pixie dream girl trope. She is only considered a manic pixie dream girl because the story is about her and Tom through his perspective. The same goes for Tom. He probably wouldn’t be the male who needs saving had not Summer come along in his story.
“Ruby Sparks” is a recent movie that comments directly on the manic pixie dream girl trope. In the film, the protagonist is a male writer who starts writing a novel about this girl, Ruby. She comes to life and he falls in love with her. She is the complete stereotype of the manic pixie dream girl: she only exists for the male protagonist. In this case, literally. She acts on impulse and adds adventure and lives for the male protagonist. But in the end, he realizes this and lets her go because she’s not a real person. The film recognizes that these two stereotypes only exist with one another.
So while the manic pixie dream girl faces constant criticism, I understand why she exists. And I think that she does not exist to be a realistic representation of women, but rather a character that exists in a realm where another male stereotype exists as well. And these two characters exist because they only come together though these fictional romances.
There is obviously much more analysis to be done on these characters. Their origin is interesting- why does it seem these are recent stereotypes? Why is is never the manic pixie dream boy and the mundane girl? There are many other questions to be asked and analysis to be had, but I think for many purposes, this character only really exists in context and not as a realistic individual.