Any self-respecting Indie Movies fan knows the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, even if they don’t know what it is. Trust us, if you’ve seen a movie about a sad indie boy who finds an exotic yet attainable girl who loves Manic Panic but is soulful enough to read Alejandra Pizarnik and play the ukelele, you’ve seen her.
The term was coined in 2005 by Nathan Rabin when he described Kirsten Dunst’s character in Elizabethtown. Basically, a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, is a -poorly written- archetype that only exists to teach a male lead something about life with just the power of her bubbly enthusiasm and quirks. Is that every enthusiastic and weird female character in every indie movie? No, not at all. MPDG is specifically references characters whose inner worlds are underdeveloped, and whose purpose for the plot depend on how useful they are in the lead’s quests for becoming a better version of himself. Think almost any character Zooey Deschanel has played in any movie in contrast to let’s say, Holly Golightly, who, yes, was bubbly and quirky but whose character was developed beyond being an accessory to the male lead.
Of course, pop culture has taken the term too far. Even making Rabin himself regretting ever coining it. Mainly because in the last few years, people have stripped the term of all meaning by using it to describe any female character that doesn’t fit between cisheteronormative standards. But this doesn’t mean lazy writers have stopped writing Manic Pixie Dream Girls instead of real characters, and it certainly doesn’t mean thousands of Manic Pixie Dream Girls aren’t influencing the real life expectations of indie movie goers everywhere.
MPDG are more alive than ever. And this affects a lot more than the quality of indie movies. It directly affects the representation of women in indie films. Guys get to see themselves as down on their luck heroes who don’t need to do any work for themselves but rather just wait for a magical, perfect, being to come and save them through the power of hipster enthusiasm. While girls get to see themselves as just supporting characters in someone else’s story, they’re the fantasy of what an ideal woman is supposed to be like for the guys who write these movies. And in an era in which movies and content inform the expectations of our youngest, this is a big issue.
The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is harmful to all involved. It teaches girls to be colorful accessories. And it teaches guys they’re entitled to any girl’s emotional intelligence. Guys don’t need to learn how to build themselves up, they just need to mope around until a colorful girl walks along and teaches them how to stop seeing life in black and white. They are basically creating an army of Tom from 500 Days of Summer. Guys who are unable to treat women as fully realized human beings. They’d rather see them as side characters that they need to get something from to then discard for a shinier quirkier model.