Today's Tribute: The Manic Pixie Dream Girl
Steve Bessette, Entertainment Editor
Well, maybe an “anti-tribute.” She’s the girl with the “short skirt and a long jacket,” easy on the eyes, and she’ll make you wish you were in high school again so you could do stupid romantic stuff without dealing with real-life consequences. She’s a mere trapping veneer and a tact-strangling she-devil who rises from the black lagoon of youthful exuberance and naivety. She’s the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
Before we go any further, we need to recognize that not all Manic Pixie Dream Girls are soul-sucking sad music diva vixens and not all were created equally. There’s a split between classic romantic comedies and modern ones, and even within those confines comes a subjective opinion as to what constitutes “classic” and “modern.” In general, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl can be labeled with a liking for skirts and stripes and dots and pinwheels, an affinity for being outdoors, a tendency to show some heartless sad-sack what love is, a strange elusive power on the introverted male like the beckoning seductive sirens of old, and a blatant disregard for the norms and straight-laced institutions set in whatever context they’re in. It makes them cute and oddly magnetic in a freeing way, but also dumb in a “how are you a functioning adult?” way.
The classic ones get cut a bit of slack, thanks to Morissey not being born until 1959 and heartbroken until the early ’80s. They were sad for always falling in love with all the wrong “dopes” (Shirley MacLaine, The Apartment), but sometimes kind of brainless and irritating (Katharine Hepburn, Bringing Up Baby). She could be seductive, picky, and choosy with multiple earnest men (Jeanne Moreau, Jules and Jim), but maybe that’s because she was just a spoiled kid with no grip on the real world (Audrey Hepburn, almost anything).
The modern ones can be seated among Portman in Garden State, Dunst in Elizabethtown, and at the head of the table, Zooey Deschanel in a few roles too many. These are the most obvious ones, the heiresses apparent to MacLaine and the two Hepburns. The modern MPDG has an indie charm that listens to anything in the realm of The Smiths or The Shins (Portman), overly kind and ambitious (Audrey Tautou, Amélie), could be dark and mysterious (Helena Bonham Carter, Fight Club), or easy to fall in love with, but will later reveal some plot point that makes her suddenly unlovable (Zooey Deschanel, almost anything).
If you like a good spoof and a goof, take a look at Peter Bogdanovich’s dabble with screwball comedy and Bringing Up Baby homage in What’s Up, Doc? (1972), having Barbra Streisand at rocket-speed deadpanning her way through a Hepburny routine. A less subtle parody lies within our day and age via Arrested Development. A portion of Season Three welcomed Charlize Theron as a British Spy with the stunning good looks, the childish wonder, the goofy clothes, everything to a “T.” Spoiler Alert, she’s also mentally challenged, which, unbeknownst to a newly adventurous Michael Bluth, is the root of her childish wonder and goofy clothes.
Let’s backpedal to the conflict of these ladies being functioning adults. Well, they aren’t, because Manic Pixie Dream Girls in their purest sugar-coated form don’t actually exist in real life. They are the dreams of hopeless romantics, the chubby and scrawny, the down-on-their-luckers, those who oft bleed out their romantic frustrations in cathartic spec scripts or pitch meetings, their graphic novels or Deviant Art profiles, their unpublished poetry. These girls are the ideal, for better or worse, but they’re far from the real. They’re perfect in their quirkiness, but that’s nothing compared to a real woman.