What do Regina George, Atticus Finch, Sidney Prescott and Anakin Skywalker all have in common? Well, hopefully not much other than they are all perfect examples of specific character archetypes. The Queen Bee, The Father Figure, The Final Girl and The Fallen Hero.
There are about a hundred other types of stock characters, and I’m sure you are familiar with many of them. However, one you might not know about is the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, or MPDG.
The MPDG is just “that girl.” An often ethereal muse-like person, or a quirky colorful eccentric being. Nathan Rabin, an American film critic, came up with that title just over a decade ago to describe “that 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.” And just like with any cliche or trope, there is a time where it works and a time where it doesn’t.
The majority of the time, this girl is the product of misogyny. In movies like “Elizabethtown,” “Garden State” and “Autumn in New York,” her sole purpose is to help a man on his journey to find happiness (and often save him from his own drab personality). More often than not, the MPDG is written by a man, and it’s not hard to tell. They are given uncommon traits that become main pieces of the MPDG’s personality.
In the movie “Autumn in New York,” a big part of the personality of Winona Ryder’s character Charlotte is that she makes funny hats. Wow, she’s got a hobby?! How quirky of her. It was like the writer didn’t want to give her too much depth, so funny hats were just about as far as he was willing to go.
So now we see the problem: They show that women are just supporting characters in a man’s life who help him learn they should embrace their lives. With that said, I think there are a couple of movies that did the whole manic pixie dream girl thing right.
The 2000 movie “Almost Famous,” set in 1973, in my opinion did the MPDG justice with Penny Lane, portrayed by Kate Hudson. The movie is about William Miller, a 15-year-old aspiring journalist who wants nothing more than to write about rock stars. He gets the opportunity to travel with a band and meets Penny Lane. In his eyes she was perfect, ethereal even.
Penny was a self-titled “Band-Aid” groupie for the band William was touring with. He idolized her. Her main goal wasn’t to fix the men in the movie. She loved the music more than anything. And although she does fall in love with a band member, in the end she makes a choice that ultimately betters herself, and just happens to help the male characters grow.
I wouldn’t say this is misogynistic. The MPDG just knows what she wants, and people help each other grow all the time. The problems only start when all they do is help people grow.
Another movie that did the MPDG thing fairly well is Audrey Hepburn’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Holly Golightly is definitely a flighty and eccentric person, but it works for her. She’s wild and free, and she doesn’t want to be put in a cage. She spends her life searching for happiness and puts herself first. The man in her story, Paul Varjak, helps her grow as a person.
Now that you’re informed on this archetype, you can look for it in anything you watch, and maybe even find a MPDG in real life. Certain types of people aren’t just in movies.