The Danger of The Manic Pixie Dreamgirl Character Trope

Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in "(500) Days of Summer"

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl (MPDG) is a character trope in films and TV series with real-world repercussions. In case you are not familiar with the term, an MPDG is a girl who does not pursue their own happiness and instead helps the male protagonist to embrace the adventures of life and rediscover their youth. Nathan Rabin’s definition is that an MPDG is a “bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.”

Prime examples of the MPDG include Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown, Zooey Deschanel in 500 Days of Summer, Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Effy, Cassie, and Frankie from Skins (UK), and many more. Let’s look at Kate Winslet as an example. Her character Clementine is a quirky girl with brightly-colored hair and youthful energy. The far more complex and brooding Joel (Jim Carrey) meets Clementine and before long, his life has transformed into something adventurous thanks to Clementine’s infectious zest for life.

Of course, Clementine is not perfect and she comes with her own flaws. She warns Joel that she isn’t the answer only Joel eventually admits “I still thought you would save me.” Like all manic pixie dream girls, Winslet’s character is treated not as a whole person, but as a concept. It is not just the protagonist that does this, but the “sensitive male writer” behind the character trope.

The trouble with this popular cliche is that fiction does have a bearing on real life. The stereotype encourages men to grow up expecting to be the protagonist of their story, while women grow up hoping to be the exciting love interest. In reality, men would do better to understand that they ought not to depend on a woman to fix them and women must understand that it is not their job to fix men. The slew of MPDGs in the 2000s only reinforces the reverse of these messages.

Fortunately, the MPDG is a concept that is being utilized less and less in film and TV. Writers are taking more care to write women as complete characters, rather than as tools for their male protagonists to find peace of mind. We’re not saying that all films with MPDGs should be abandoned because let’s face it, 500 Days of Summer is an absolute classic. Instead, we advise keeping an eye out for this trope and engaging with it critically. And to all the eccentric and wonderful women reading this, remember that you are not the answer to anyone’s happiness but your own.