Apparently, it’s romance day on the blog, because Adam Serwer has some interesting thoughts on Manic Pixie Dream Girls as ghostly projections of movie writers:
My theory is that the MPDG is a fantasy molded from the clay of an infinite number of adolescent rejections from the women of their youth. Precisely because the relationship never reaches the stage of genuine intimacy, the MPDG remains a two-dimensional projection of the desires of a guy who is progressive enough in gender matters to want a woman who is “interesting,” but not one that has an internal life of her own beyond the superficial qualities that made her “cool” and “not like other girls” to begin with.
Key to the MPDG is that the concept reflects the gender-based hostility of the nice guy. She frequently suffers from a form of (mental) illness, because this both proves that she needs the nice guy and shows why he has such a hard time acquiring her. Even if she’s not sick in some way, she is defined by some kind of glaring emotional vulnerability that makes her, in an abstract sense, a damsel in distress who needs rescue. Under the circumstances, the nice guy’s qualities become as heroic as he imagines them to be. She often suffers cinematically, because she refuses — like the unattainable women of the nice guy’s imagination — to recognize just how good for her he is.
He and I were talking about this a little bit a couple of days ago, and while I think it’s pretty clear why MPDGs are a fantasy for men, I also think the archetype has some utility for women. After decades of makeover scenes and unrealistic physical and behavioral expectations, there’s something kind of appealing about being told that the fantasy isn’t the Herve Leger bandage dress and the body that goes with it, it’s the quirky cardigan; that it’s not about having to fix yourself, it’s about someone else has to do the transformative work and all you have to do is help. I don’t necessarily think it’s a good trade, and I don’t actually think it makes for fully fleshed-out characters or exceptionally interesting movies, but I understand why it might feel worth it.