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Why It's Time to Retire MPDGs: Their Counterexamples

by Women Team
31 Jul 2017 | 2:10 PM

She's beautiful, bubbly, mysterious, shallow, and unearthly. From Truman Capote's Holly Golightly of Breakfast at Tiffany's to Zach Braff's Sam of Garden State, these characters exist solely in the imagination of men writers/directors to teach young men to seize life and its endless mysteries. These eccentric muses were given a term by the film critic Nathan Rabin: The Manic Pixie Dream Girl (MPDG).

Now, it's time to put the cliché to rest. Here are some female characters that rejected the MPDG archetype:

Woody Allen's Annie Hall (Annie Hall)

Annie Hall is one of the best romantic comedy movies of all time, and Diane Keaton's take on Annie deserves a portion of the credit. Just like Woody Allen's character, Alvy Singer, you'll be charmed by Annie's ditzy 'la-di-da' way of speaking and her unusual fashion sense. If you look a bit closer, you'll see that she's a deeply compelling and fully realized character who evolved over the course of her and Alvy's relationship. Although often called as an MPDG, Annie Hall has her own goals independent of the male lead.

Michel Gondry's Clementine Kruczynski (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)

Clementine Kruczynski isn't the type of woman you'll easily forget. With her constant changing hair color and spontaneity, some viewers might think Kate Winslet's fiery role is a classic example of MPDG. This isn't the case. The writer-director duo Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry said in an interview that Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) and Clementine Kruczynski are two complicated individuals who love one another but struggle with their relationship. 

Clementine rejects the MPDG type in a remark to Joel: "Too many guys think I complete them, or I'm going to make them alive. I'm just a fucked-up girl who is looking for my own peace of mind; don't assign me yours."

Zoe Kazan's Ruby Sparks (Ruby Sparks)

Ruby Sparks took a satisfying swipe at the archetype. It teases a lighthearted comedy about a lonely author who writes his dream girl only to find she's come to life. She's the type of girl who impulsively jumps in the pool and sticks her arm out of the car window to feel the wind – nothing more like your classic Manic Pixie Dream Girl. This echoes Kazan's take on the archetype. But when Calvin has stopped writing about her, Ruby starts to develop on her own and be the hero of her own story. This dramatizes the issue with male writers creating female characters who don't exist - beautiful, offbeat with no hopes or dreams of their own.

MPDG once had its place as a clever way to describe female characters that were all quirk but with no depth. Now, many films and TV shows focus on challenging and surprising characters, and there's a growing influence of feminist writers and actresses, such as Lena Dunham, Amy Poehler, Brit Marling, and Ellen Page. In real life, men don't need women to transform themselves, and women don't exist to help men change.