The “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” is dead. She was 6 years old. Critics had been predicting her demise for a while now, but this week’s "Modern Love" column, a classic tale of boy meets MPDG, feels like the nail in the coffin — and not just because once the Times "Style" section gets to something, it’s so over. As a critical term, MPDG has lost all meaning. As a personality type, the MPDG has been debunked, notably now by the kind of male screenwriter who was responsible for her proliferation.
The MPDG was born in 2007, in AV Club film critic Nathan Rabin’s review of Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown. (Surely he deserves some kind of not-yet-invented journalism award for stickiest critical coinages.) Bemoaning Kirsten Dunst’s role, Rabin wrote that her character, an archetype he called the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, “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.” For a while, MPDG was shorthand for a feminist critique of a certain kind of female character (Natalie Portman in Garden State, Zooey Deschanel in (500) Days of Summer) who was less a person than a symptom of the superficiality or laziness of her male creators.
It was as if whoever wrote MPDG characters didn't feel the need to imbue women with personalities (beyond their taste in music and vintage clothing) or motivations (hence their spontaneity and availability). Or so actress and writer Zoe Kazan tried to explain when reporters asked whether she portrayed a Manic Pixie Dream Girl in Ruby Sparks, the movie she, a woman, wrote about a Pygmalion-esque writer-man who has MPDG problems. Well, yes, and no.
By then, the term MPDG had lost most of its usefulness anyway, thanks to overuse. It was levied, criminally, at Diane Keaton in Annie Hall and Zooey Deschanel, the actual person. How could a real person’s defining trait be a lack of interior life? I wondered. But then came the essays from women who claimed to be or to have been Manic Pixie Dream Girls, citing their love of cute stuff. Some were hand-wringing. “I shouldn’t have to feel embarrassed when a group of lady friends makes fun of my kitten-covered day planner, but I still do,” wrote a woman with a Hello Kitty credit card. Others were defiant. "Just because I like cute stuff doesn’t mean I’m shallow," wrote a young woman who aspired to work at a bakery for the aprons.
For at least one woman, the idea of the MPDG was central to a feminist awakening. “Women behave in ways that they find sanctioned in stories written by men who know better,” observed political writer Laurie Penny, who has a pixie haircut (sometimes red) and plays the ukulele. For her, recognizing her MPDG-ish tendencies inspired her to prioritize her own life and work over the offbeat happiness she brought to men. "Something in me was rebelling against the idea of being a character in somebody else’s story," she wrote in the New Statesman. "I wanted to write my own."
Maybe the term could be resurrected if a rash of woman-produced media introduced an array of peripheral, quirky Manic Pixie Dream Boys. But for me, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl completed her life cycle when a male filmmaker realized that his own, real-life MPDG was more complicated than the girls in the movies that he watched and wrote, movies which in turn inspired women to think of themselves as MPDGs. The tattooed, vaguely ethnic, vintage-typewriter-collecting “human V.I.P. pass” he met in an improv class, he realized, “wasn’t a character or plot device in my story, or some damaged creature with deep despair that I and only I could cure as part of my ‘hero’s journey.’” “She was simply someone who had fallen out of love with her boyfriend,” he wrote. “Which happens.”
Shop: Outfit of the Week
Most Viewed Stories
How Angelina Jolie Won the First Big Battle in Her Divorce
25 Famous Women on Being Alone
It’s Time to Get Over Your White Feelings and Start Taking Action for Black Lives
22 Intimate Lost Photos of Marilyn Monroe
Everything We Know About Brad Pitt’s Plane Incident
Jaden Smith on the Many Subtle Flavors of Water
Taylor Swift’s Squad Begged Kim Kardashian for Mercy
Gigi Hadid Fought Back Against a Creepy Stranger Who Grabbed Her
The 6 Best Denim Shops on Etsy
Beyoncé and Tina Knowles Did A Normal Mother/Daughter Thing
From Our Partners
powered by PubExchange
The Cut’s Latest Love and War FeaturesAva DuVernay on Hollywood Racism, Modern-Day Slavery, and Why She’s Still an Optimist
The director, whose new documentary The 13th chronicles America’s history of racial subjugation, talks to Rebecca Traister about Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, and the modern criminal-justice system.What No One Tells Couples Trying to Conceive
It helps to be rich.The Hidden Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race
A segregated unit of mathematicians born of desperation during World War II became the secret to NASA’s success.Slut-Shaming Squids Are Everywhere
The “Bermuda Square” comic strip is back.Santigold’s New Video Is the Result of a Spontaneous Run-in With Kara Walker
The collaboration that dreams are made of.Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield Spotted Together Again, Love Might Be Real
They could be back together ahh!Teen, Forced to Go on Vacation With Her Family, Calls 911
The logical decision.Report: Hearst Fired Seventeen EIC Michelle Tan During Her Maternity Leave
Tan had been at the magazine for about two years.Good Morning America Host Amy Robach Apologizes for Saying ‘Colored People’ on Air
She quickly apologized.Unknown NFL Player Tries to Get Attention by Asking Aly Raisman Out in Video
That’s one way to do it.
Marissa Cooper is poised for a comeback ... maybe.California Votes to Remove Time Limit on Prosecuting Rape Cases
In light of the Bill Cosby case.Beyoncé’s Behind-the-Scenes Lemonade Photos Belong in a Museum
She had the "Boycott Beyoncé" sign already in formation on set.The Rise of the Male Celebrity Full-Frontal
An ex-publicist explains.Gabby Douglas Will Be a Miss America Judge
The gold-medal gymnast will help choose the 2017 pageant winner.Camille Becerra’s Photo Diary of Rockaway Beach
An ideal trip to add and cross off your summer bucket list.Sorry Nerds, Ian McKellen Won’t Officiate Your Expensive Lord of the Rings–Themed Wedding
Not even for $1.5 million.Miles Teller Is Still Upset About Being Called a Dick
He wants to set the record straight.Why Parents Shouldn’t Talk About Weight With Their Teens
New guidelines seek to banish weight talk.UVA Student Assaulted at Knifepoint During Orientation Weekend
But some students weren't notified until 24 hours later.