Tom Speaker

One nascent phrase in the American lexicon is “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” (MPDG).

Coined by Nathan Rabin of The A.V. Club, the MPDG is one who “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. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is an all-or-nothing-proposition. Audiences either want to marry her instantly (despite The Manic Pixie Dream Girl being, you know, a fictional character) or they want to commit grievous bodily harm against her and her immediate family.” Some feel that the concept of the MPDG is even harmful to relationships between men and women.

“(The MPDG has) certainly propagated that ideal that women should be free-spirited-a brand of being that defies typical societal restraints, but at the same time maintains the idealized American vision of beauty,” said Miami University junior Grace Allen. “In a sense, it almost adds a new dimension to strive for … Not only are we pressured to meet near-impossible standards physically, but also personality-wise. It gives men the idea that women should be clairvoyant saviors that can somehow revitalize and excite men. Obviously this is an unrealistic view of women that can only lead to a falsely idealized view of our role in relationships, which can only lead to disappointment.”

The A.V. Club recently featured a list of film characters who manifested the MPDG’s spirit, among them Elizabethtown’s Claire Colburn (played by Kirsten Dunst) and Garden State’s Sam (played by Natalie Portman). In fact, the list even declares the MPDG idea travels all the way back to Katherine Hepburn’s role in Bringing Up Baby.

Amusement, always interested in saving its generation from the pits of sexism, has compiled a list of the anti-MPDG: women in cinema who can actually be comprehended, sometimes nightmarish and sometimes wonderful.

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Kate Winslet)

Jim Carrey “first” meets Kate Winslet on a train, and she’s strangely attracted to his sheltered, mumbled existence, quickly proceeding to tell him about the awesome names of the colors she uses to dye her hair. Later on, we find out that Winslet is an alcoholic who may also be promiscuous-suddenly she’s not so manic-pixie-dreamy anymore.

But Charlie Kaufman’s script doesn’t mold this into an attack on women, spending the entire film examining both Carrey and Winslet’s flaws (Carrey’s being his resistance to open up, as well as his propensity for saying insensitive and ignorant remarks). The story culminates in a last scene that offers one of the most ambiguous (but practical) solutions for relationships in cinema. 

2.Before Sunset (Julie Delpy)

Both Delpy and her ex-one-night-stand, Ethan Hawke, act problematically from their very first re-encounter, Delpy having a long-term boyfriend and Hawke being married. But they’re both unhappy with their romantic situations-Hawke extremely so-and are clearly considering reliving the one special night that they had one year ago. They are pleasantly polite when they run into the each other, but as the day progresses, each reveals more about themselves and the heavy emotion left hanging when Delpy releases her tears is almost unbearably palpable.

3. Jules and Jim (Jeanne Moreau)

Yet another case where an MPDG is revealed to be anything but. Jules (Oskar Werner) and Jim (Henri Serre) find the smile of a goddess’ sculpture highly entrancing, and soon meet Jeanne Mureau, who embodies that goddess’ face perfectly. All is well until the three become part of a love triangle that eventually destroys each of them in some way. Mureau’s enthusiasm for new experiences is outmatched by her scheming and tendency to harass. Before the penultimate scene, both Jules and Jim undoubtedly wish that they would have been better off without her.

4. Smiles of a Summer Night (Harriet Andersson)

Andersson, the dove of many movie snobs’ dreams, again fulfills that role by playing a house servant who toys with her employer’s son’s head, occasionally allowing him to graze past her or touch her breast. She ultimately leaves him alone and proposes to a much older man. That doesn’t say much about the nature of relationships, but we wanted to end this on a depressing note.