I’m sure there are a plethora of articles on this trope found on web outlets like Indiewire, Vice, and Variety. However, I wanted to expand on my own critique of ‘The Manic Pixie Dream Girl’.
Picture a male protagonist. Devoid of happiness and pleasure, he is stuck in the abyss of his existential angst. Then along comes a pretty girl. Quirky and spontaneous in demeanor, her vivaciousness and zest for life brings a silver lining to the dark cloud overshadowing the brooding male protagonist. This is our ‘manic pixie dream girl’, whose sole purpose of a story is to be the object of affection for the lead character. Nothing more.
My recent viewing of Zach Braff’s Garden State prompted my thoughts on this topic. Natalie Portman portrays such a role as Samantha, contrasting with Andrew, Zach Braff’s dull and depressed lead character. While, I am normally a fan of Natalie Portman, she overplayed the trope in Garden State. Instead of being cute and zany, she came across as annoying and semi-psychotic!
I actually don’t have a problem with the trope in itself. After all, cliches can be a refreshing facet of a story as they appeal to our yearning for familiarity. The “manic pixie dream girl’ is no exception. Consider Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Woods. The relationship between the introverted, depressed male protagonist and his bubbly love interest is a cliche, as we have seen this dynamic since Greco-Roman tragedies. However, Haruki Murakami utilizes this relationship dynamic as a framework to expand on universal truths and the intrinsic nuances of life. Many of Haruki Murakami’s ardent fans include middle-aged housewives in Michigan, who wouldn’t otherwise identify with a tale revolving around a Japanese guy in his early-to-mid twenties.
Unfortunately, most screenwriters lack Haruku Murakami’s penchant for grace and finesse. Screenwriters construct a female lead character in alignment with the generic blueprint of the manic pixie dream girl, in order to fulfill their own romantic fantasies. It’s a very self-indulged vision, ignoring the multifaceted qualities of any woman.
Since screenwriting has been a male-dominated profession for eons, the dissociation from those classic one-dimensional female leads, who serve either as the love interest for the male protagonist or a titillating sex object , will be a gradual process.