Garden State

Someone is trying to give dimension to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl and it’s giving me a headache

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By Andrea Alarcón

I was watching the show New Girl and trying to figure out what about it was driving me so crazy. It’s supposed to be funny, but I don’t get it. I’m not laughing. I don’t relate… Honestly, it just makes me feel downright uncomfortable.

Then I finally figured it out. These nice people decided to bring our archetypal Manic Pixie Dream Girl Zooey Deschanel and try to give her character some…depth.

Sigh.

Zooey Deschanel posing with a flower.
Zooey Deschanel, with flower.

The MPDG tends to be a supporting character to a brooding, sad, young man, who needs to be reminded of the beauty and wistfulness of life. The MPDG is “unabashedly girly”, innocent, quirky, young, fresh and most-importantly, non-threatening. She blows bubbles in the wind while wearing a sundress in a park. MPDGs are said to help their men without pursuing their own happiness, and since they never grow up, neither do their men. Film critic Nathan Rabin coined the term after seeing Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown (2005). He described the character type as:

“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.”

It’s Zooey Deschanel in every role she’s ever played, it’s Natalie Portman in Garden State and Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. You don’t know what the true story behind these women is, what they want or what troubles them. They are mysterious dream-like creatures only supposed to sparkle, be a little “off” and listen to great indie music.

The whole thing had caught me off guard, usually because sexist archetypes tend to come in semi-naked packages. It seems like all women are stupid, vapid and shallow, so for a man, finding a MPDG is a relief. These girls are pretty, they dress cute, they are witty. They are mysterious and maybe troubled, but their troubles don’t really matter, since they are there for the sole purpose of supporting their man.

They are interchangeable. Switch any of the characters from one movie into the next one, and see that it wouldn’t make much of a difference.

I could call the MPDG sexism of the modern era. We are not used to it, so we don’t see it. But none of these women have a career, a dream or a decent job. They rescue men, but not through strength or making them feel valued, but through their need for them and the fact that they follow them around. I could see this as female equivalent of Prince Charming… the difference is Prince Charming is an old concept, and he tends to be powerful, strong and intelligent. No bubble-blowing for Prince Charming.

The New Girl is trying to expand this concept and make it into a series. Geez, they made Deschanel, who does not even attempt to not be pigeonholed as this, the main character! Oh oh… how can you have such a shallow idea drive the plot of a show?