Image Credit: Momentum Pictures
The term Manic Pixie Dream Girl (MPDG) was first coined by film critic Nathan Rabin in 2007, but the character has been around practically since the beginning of cinema. The MPDG is unconventionally beautiful, she has a unique soulful energy and she’s full of quirkiness and endearing qualities. Her purpose in the film is to entice the main male character into her web of living freely and loving deeply. The purpose of the MPDG is inherently sexist, she exists to help sad white men to live a better life – with little regard to their own. There have been multiple attempts to pull apart the concept of the MPDG, however I would argue that the MPDG has taken on a new form. She has become something else in the modern world in order to fit in more with the target audience.
My favourite film, and one I feel features an interesting manifestation of manic pixie dream girl is Almost Famous (2000), directed by Cameron Crowe. Almost Famous follows William as he writes an article for Rolling Stone aged 15 at the height of rock and roll the 1970s, joining the fictional band Stillwater on tour. The girl in question here is of course Penny Lane played wonderfully by Kate Hudson. She describes herself as a band-aid: “We are not Groupies. Groupies sleep with rockstars because they want to be near someone famous. We are here because of the music, we inspire the music. We are Band Aids.”
The men she draws into her web are Stillwater’s lead singer Russell, and William who is also infatuated with her. She catches their eyes for being different and is a unique beauty in a way that is an archetypal feature of a MPDG. However where Penny Lane differs is her ending of the story. Most MPDG exist just to support their male counterpart(s), and the film ends with the two falling in love for example; Sam and Andrew in Garden State; Drew and Claire in Elizabethtown or Juno and Paulie in Juno. However Penny Lane doesn’t do this, she moves to Morrocco, she pursues neither Russel or William, she has her own ending. This independent version of a MPDG I believe has been constructed to appeal to the growing desire for the representation of independent women and there are multiple examples of it in more recent works in film.
Another film that features this new MPDG is American Honey(2016), directed by Andrea Arnold. The story follows Star (Sasha Lane) as she joins a magazine sales crew. We watch as she meets new people, forms new bonds goes on a journey of self-exploration through the Midwest. Stars home life is unconventional and uncomfortable, she’s constantly groped by her alcoholic father and is tasked with looking after her two younger siblings. On a shopping trip she meets Jake, who is attracted to her and invites her to join his group on their travels. Upon first watching American Honey may seem like a classic boy meets girl romance (albeit slightly more complicated). However what it is really about at its core is watching Star grow up and away from this storyline. The film ends with the crew lighting a bonfire, to the soundtrack of God’s Whisper (Raury). Jake approaches Star and gives her a turtle, star could choose to treasure this turtle, as a symbol of her holding onto this toxic love she has for Jake. Instead she releases it back into the water, letting Jake go, emerging from the water it is as if Star is born again – free from the chains of her relationship.
I think this new MPDG as described in this article has a different target audience to the original. She is built to inspire girls and women, instead of being created for all the men watching the screen to want her, she is created for all the women watching the film to be her. She’s sexy and desirable, but has a level of independence that proves she can function and thrive without the man. Fundamentally she defines her story, the men in the film are an accessory to her – not vice versa. The new MPDG can be described perfectly by an old MPDG – Clementine from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; “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 looking for my own peace of mind. Don’t assign me yours.”