Six Anti-Manic Pixie Dream Girls

By Matt Prigge
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Aug. 1, 2012

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Julie Christie in "Petulia"

Katharine Hepburn, Bringing Up Baby (1939): Righteously spurred on by the grating likes of Natalie Portman in Garden State and Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown, the A.V. Club’s Nathan Rabin notably coined the term "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" to describe some filmmakers’ predilection toward “bubbly, shallow” female characters who exist solely to teach “broodingly soulful young men to embrace life.” He also cited Hepburn’s nutso societal gal in Howard Hawks’ magnum screwball, but though she’s manic and pixie, she’s hardly a dream girl. She yearns for Cary Grant’s paleontologist, but Grant vehemently dislikes her, and though he gives in in the final scene, his acceptance is a disingenuous “Oh, all right,” delivered through an exhausted sigh.

Several Eric Rohmer characters: The fetching, impulsive women that lure and tease men in La Collectionneuse, My Night at Maud’s, Love in the Afternoon and others were unmistakably an inspiration for filmmakers like Cameron Crowe and Zach Braff. But lost in translation was how Rohmer made these women rich and complex, with lives and thoughts outside the male gaze.

Julie Christie, Petulia (1968): She tries to cheer up a depressed, divorced doctor (George C. Scott) with sex, endless jabbering and by showing up on his door tooting a stolen tuba. But Christie’s “kook” is, like Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, secretly troubled. In Christie’s case, she’s an abused wife, and the film winds up as much about her as about him.

Marcia Rodd, Little Murders (1971):  Alan Arkin’s adaptation of a bleakly comic Jules Feiffer play stars Rodd as a bubbly Manhattanite who tries—with little success—to lighten up a nihilistic photographer played by Elliott Gould. He stays impenetrably downcast even after they’re married. She’s a failed MPDG, who succeeds only when it’s too late..

Gianna Jun, My Sassy Girl (2001): A very South Korean twist on the MPDG: she’s cute and desirable, but also psychologically unhinged and violently abusive.

Zoe Kazan, Ruby Sparks (2012):
Elia Kazan’s granddaughter wrote this devastating parody of the MPDG, playing the kooky creation of a brooding writer (Paul Dano) who mysteriously materializes in his life. Unlike most MPDGs, she proves too complex for her creator, who would have preferred her more one-note manic-pixie-dreamy.

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