The term “Manic Pixie Dream Girl,” famously coined by Nathan Rabin in his review of Elizabethtown, is meant to refer to a whimsical female character (usually a woman and not a girl, as it happens) who only exists to cheer up the brooding male hero, and doesn’t have goals of her own. I’ve seen the Natalie Portman character in Garden State (which I haven’t seen) and Maude in the old movie Harold and Maude cited as other examples.

I should say that, having just watched Elizabethtown for the first time, I’m unconvinced that the Kirsten Dunst character doesn’t have goals of her own. She couldn’t put together that amazing road trip for the Orlando Bloom character if she hadn’t taken it herself. Clearly, in some ways, she’s driven, or at least does some driving.

Obviously, I have goals of my own. I have more goals than anybody I know! So why does this type of character appeal to me so much? Because let me tell you, she does. Even if she’s basically just cheering up the main dude, I like her.

 

 

First of all, there’s nothing wrong with cheering people up. I aspire to do it.

But the other thing is that when I’m watching a movie, I’m identifying with all of the characters. I don’t just identify with the woman because I’m a woman.

In my own life, I’ve often been the fun-loving free spirit, and sometimes I’ve been the brooding person. Absolutely, I like seeing the fun-loving free spirit conquer. I think she’s my truest and best self.

Mr. Rabin later regretted coming up with the phrase, which I appreciate, because it’s used to dismiss any female character with a free spirit or an excessive amount of cheer…especially if she has a fondness for things that are whimsical, obscure, or even worse, girly.

The idea that we’re only supposed to like serious things because we’re adults is, of course, awful, and the idea that “girly” things are inherently inferior is even worse. Everyone’s life is tough enough without enjoying what we enjoy.

Mr. Rabin seems like a really good guy, but his original Elizabethtown review betrayed, in my mind, some distaste for quirky good cheer. For some of us, stubborn and relentless cheerfulness is a proven strategy.

It’s very easy to forget about the good things in the world, big and small, and it’s easy to lose our joy, and the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope reminds me of both things.

What do you think about the Manic Pixie Dream Girl character? (As always, it’s okay if you feel 100% the opposite way that I do! Haha.) Are there other types of characters or stories that never fail to inspire you? Let me know in the comments! Thanks for reading!