Boys and Girls in Current Film: A Glimpse Into "Manic Pixies"

By Lacey Ross on December 25, 2012

I was inspired to write this article after obsessively watching Pitch Perfect for the third time in two days. Jesse, the male protagonist, never fails to break my heart. His character is seemingly flawless: he is sweet, charming, funny, boyishly handsome, and talented, but in a self-deprecating way. The character radiates youthful appeal in a way that makes me want to sit close to him and watch John Hughes movies with him. He takes on the selfless task of cracking open the stony girl protagonist by showing her The Breakfast Club and becomes a victimJesse is unusual. Jesse is a background story-less charisma machine.

Jesse (left) and Beca (right) from Pitch Perfect

I could not help but think of a term used by movie critics: Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

According to film critic Nathan Rabin, a Manic Pixie Dream Girl is:

A cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writers-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.

Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Zooey Deschanel in (500) Days of Summer, Kate Hudson in Almost Famous, Ellen Page in Juno, Natalie Portman in Garden State, and Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown are commonly cited Manic Pixie Dream Girl roles.

Embraced and envied by hipsters and indie darlings alike, these women are looked upon with starry eyes. The fragile, reflective characters become a concept rather than a person, a quirky symbol of womanhood that appeals to intelligent boys and shrewd girls. The concept of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl has existed since the days of Marilyn Monroe, but within the last decade, cinema has greatly embraced the appeal of selling the latest princess of peculiar.

If you’re a cinema fanatic like me, it is easy to notice the gradual shift of men characters in the same direction. Jesse of Pitch Perfect literally embodies the definition of a Manic Pixie Dream Boy: he teaches the brooding Beca to embrace the beauty of the lessons film can teach, and even further, the value of human relationships and taking risks by letting people in. He is also given the happy ending that Manic Pixies of both genders commonly receive.

Penn Badgley in Easy A, Heath Ledger in 10 Things I Hate About You, Joseph Gordon-Levitt in (500) Days of Summer, Matthew Broderick in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Christian Slater in Heathers, and Jon Cryer in Pretty in Pink are all Manic Pixie Dream Boys in their own right, and may I say that the concept works very well? I find myself severely attracted to all of these characters while watching these films. These boys are immortal in the world of adolescent stories and have influenced the way girls view men in film today.

Woodchuck Todd (left) and Olive (right) of Easy A

The most interesting point? Despite the fact that most young actors have never been cast in a stereotypical Manic Pixie role, girls develop irrational attachments to current handsome performers as if they are real-life Manic Pixie Dream Boys. I find myself constantly searching for the, say, John Krasinski in my life because I have this deep-rooted belief that a man like him is going to change my life and touch my heart through his intellect and passion.

Frankly, it’s a juvenile thought process, but it is a thought process that I believe all children of the Manic Pixie age suffer from.

Two of the most famous Manic Pixies, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel

This label and selling point has introduced a devastating mentality to vulnerable young adults. The perfect Manic Pixie characters do not exist in real life, but we are not taught this. We are shown that through patience, adventure, and honesty, we will be presented with the love of our own Manic Pixie. The current fad of worshipping unassuming and eccentric actors and actresses is rooted in Manic Pixie movie roles–we all want to see the silver linings and care for, befriend, or become the Manic Pixies ourselves.

By Lacey Ross

Uloop Writer
Out to cure my own boredom.

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