10 Manic Pixie Dream Girls From Film Adaptations of Novels

5 Jul
This post was inspired in part by Laurie Penny’s amazing article from the New Statesman earlier this week, and the equally thought-provoking response from Hazel of Freaky Trigger.

The MPDG is, by very definition, the girl of your dreams. She first became a trope thanks to Nathan Rabin’s review of Elizabethtown, in which he defined a Manic Pixie Dream Girl 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” – but she has existed in one form or another long before he ever coined the phrase.

We saw her in the fifties, when she manifested herself as Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief, and Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot. In the sixties she was Jean Seberg in Breathless. As the decades roll on, see also: Maggie Gyllenhaal in Stranger than Fiction, Natalie Portman in Garden State, and every character Zooey Deschenal has ever played – ever. Kate Winslet’s character Clementine in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind acknowledges the archetype and kind of rejects the label (“Too many guys think I’m a concept, or I complete them, or I’m gonna make them alive. But I’m just a fucked-up girl who’s lookin’ for my own peace of mind; don’t assign me yours“) – but ultimately, she’s MPDG incarnate.

If you want a better definition of what exactly a Manic Pixie Dream Girl’s role is, this Feminist Frequency video sums it up pretty succinctly:

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I thought it might be fun to take a look at ten MPDGs in film adaptations of literary characters and see how they measure up to their bookish counterparts.

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1. Ramona Flowers –Scott Pilgrim series, Bryan Lee O’Malley

Is Ramona Flowers a Manic Pixie Dream Girl? I think so. Most tellingly, she’s first seen in a dream, and her changes in hair colour rival that of Kate Winslet’s character in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Not to mention the fact that she’s hot, she’s mysterious, and she’s the romantic interest in the hapless hero’s quest to get a life. However, it’s worth pointing out that in the comic she’s actually a lot more complex than the film would lead you to believe.

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2. Lux Lisbon – ‘The Virgin Suicides‘, Jeffrey Eugenides

In a way, all of the Lisbon sisters are MPDGs. Although Lux has her own autonomy in a way that not many of the other characters in this list do, she’s still that dreamlike, mysterious and impulsive creature that fascinates the boys central to the story, enabling them to grow and ponder over the mystery of life and the whimsy of teenage girls as they grow into young men. It’s interesting that Kirsten Dunst also played the character in Elizabethtown that inspired the term in the first place.

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3. Sam – ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower‘, Stephen Chbosky

This film adaptation was directed by the author of its novel, so not much has changed in its retelling. Sam remains a beautiful, spontaneous Rocky Horror-loving high school senior who helps to coax protagonist Charlie out of his shell — most notably in the most iconic scene of both the book and the movie, when her free-spirited nature literally causes him to feel “infinite“.

Emma Watson is brilliant in this role, by the way. Hermione can do no wrong as far as I’m concerned.

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4. Queen Akasha – ‘Queen of the Damned‘, Anne Rice

This might be a bit of an odd choice, but just humour me here. My argument for Queen Akasha’s inclusion in the MPDG trope is that – okay, she might not be adorable or wear pinafores and make her own jam, but she’s is the girl of Lestat’s dreams, and she does whisk the male protagonist with the tortured soul away so that he can ultimately grow as a character. Impulsively killing loads of people is pretty quirky, too, don’t you think? (And drinking blood is soooo kitsch.)

What’s also interesting about the film adaptation is that it completely misses the point of the text. Anne Rice’s mesmeric novel has this whole political and super misandry-fuelled feminist slant that never even makes it into the script. (Although on further reflection, I see how the plan to kill all of the men on earth to end war might alienate the Korn-blasting audience of the film.) Stripping Akasha of any political meaning, and giving her some funky dance moves, kind of reduces her status as a meaningful character and places her as a mere accessory to the brooding male of the story.

holly  breakast

5. Holly Golightly – ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s‘, Truman Capote

All the traits are there in Capote’s novel, but the Old Hollywood adaptation really takes the cake for creating this eccentrically stylish caricature of a woman – one who exists solely to spark a bit of life into this stifled, sensitive guy. Heck, even her name is chipper.

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6. Daisy Buchanan – ‘The Great Gatsby‘, F. Scott Fitzgerald

The laissez faire and wealthy Daisy Buchanan may not have been an obvious MPDG in Fitzgerald’s novel, but played by the cute, pixie-nosed Carey Mulligan in Baz Luhrmann’s film, it becomes a little more obvious. Daisy, with her “voice full of money”, is the muse who inspires Gatsby to dedicate his life to becoming the type of man worthy of her presence. How’d that work out for you, Gatters?

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7. Abberlaine – ‘The Bridge‘, Ian Banks

Okay, so they haven’t exactly made this into a movie yet, but it’s only a matter of time before motion picture companies start fighting for the rights to Banks’ legacy so I’m leaving it here anyway. Mainly because I think Fairuza Balk would be amazing as Abberlaine, the cigar-smoking, sexually free/freeing and completely two-dimensional romantic interest that the protagonist meets briefly in the first half of the novel.

According to one analysis, “Abberlaine’s purpose within the Bridge fantasy seems to be to let the narrator approach the idea of sex within the Bridge. After all, if this is going to be a wish fulfillment, sex is necessary.” That’s it. That’s her purpose.

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8. Trillian, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, Douglas Adams

“Let’s go somewhere,” says Trillian.

“Where did you have in mind?” says Arthur Dent.

“Madagascar,” says Trillian.

This exchange takes place somewhere before either character know that space exploration is a thing, btw. They’re just having a little drink, dressed as Darwin and Livingstone, and Madagascar is just the cutest thing to say in the moment.

While Trillian wasn’t really an MPDG in the books, Zooey Deschanel’s darling appearance opposite co-star Martin Freeman is decidedly manic, pixie and dream-like — even after she takes the beard off.

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9. Juliet – ‘Romeo and Juliet‘, Shakespeare

This is of course debateable, but I think it’s a fitting assessment. Juliet is beautiful, and pretty batshit crazy — and you can’t say the girl’s not impulsive. Plus she has the whole meet-cute thing with Romeo in Baz Luhrman’s film adaptation, when she’s literally dressed like an etherial fantasy creature behind glass.

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10. Tiffany – ‘The Silver Linings Play Book‘, Matthew Quick

If #5 had breakfast at this Tiffany’s, I feel like shit would’ve gone down a lot differently. This promiscuous young widow is as damaged as her male counterpart — to an extent — but hot girl teaching broken man how to dance? Come on, this is Pixie Territory. (Although if she was a fully-fledged MPDG, she would’ve been the one ordering the raisin bran.)

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There’s nothing inherently wrong with being cute, whimsical or twee. The problem with the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is when she’s solely a prop for the male protagonist to ‘feel alive’.

Maybe it’s time for the whole trope to retire.

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One Response to “10 Manic Pixie Dream Girls From Film Adaptations of Novels”

  1. Janae May 15, 2017 at 11:44 AM #

    If time is money you’ve made me a wehltaier woman.

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