500 Days of Summer, or, Why I Hate the Manic Pixie Dream Girl

500 Days of Summer, or, Why I Hate the Manic Pixie Dream Girl

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed this movie. We all enjoy these movies; they’re designed to make you feel good, make you believe (however fleetingly) in “love.” I’d watch it again, hell, I might even buy it when it comes out on DVD. But this was the movie that pushed me over the edge in my frustration with the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (MPDG). As coined by Nathan Rabin when reviewing Kirsten Dunst’s character in Elizabethtown, the MPDG is “that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” Think Natalie Portman in Garden State, Kate Hudson in Almost Famous, Rachel Bilson in The Last Kiss. These women are always happy and quirky, have no real lives of their own, and exist solely to push depressed men to do things and save them. Call me unsympathetic, but save your own f***ing life, I’d rather have agency.

So much has been written about the MPDG and so I don’t aim to add much to the breakdown of the character so much as to further extol my frustration that she exists. Sure she’s cute, she’s fun to be around, she (OMG) pulls you out of your comfort zone. She’s that quirky indie chick with new ideas and old dresses who isn’t like those other blonde bimbo bombshells (she’s read On the Road and spells Elliott Smith’s name correctly), but she’s placed on a pedestal creating a new idol to worship. And frankly this idol sucks too.

Detached and elusive, she’ll reel you in with a comment about music (“You gotta hear this one song, it’ll change your life I swear!”) but also! she has quirky vintage style and also! doesn’t ever seem to have those awful girl friends or any other friends for that matter and also! doesn’t believe in “love” so she won’t nag you for the engagement ring.  She so crazy! Sure it’s refreshing that it’s no longer the woman needing saving but instead doing the saving, but at what cost? It’s like she’s only there as a vehicle to further the guy; she does her little manic pixie perfection thing to push a guy into following his ambition but she doesn’t seem to have any agency of her own, dreams of her own, a life of her own. She’s idolized as a tool of realization for a man whose never met anyone quite like this pixie.

In 500 Days the trailer shows the scene that really grated on me, where the quintessential MPDG Zooey Deschanel discusses the Smiths with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and bam! he falls in love. Because OMG a girl?! Likes the Smiths?! Can it beeee?? As Amanda perfectly points out:

Oh my god!  He could have searched the world high and low for such a rare gem as a bona fide female human being who knows how to sing along to a popular Smiths song.  I’m sure subsequent dates were full of further revelations about shared love for other obscure bands that one couldn’t possible expect a woman to know of.  Perhaps they will retreat to his place where he’ll be astonished at her breadth of taste, so rare and precious in the ladyfolk. She could own a Talking Heads album!  She may harbor love for Radiohead.  Perhaps she even listens to the Beatles?  It’s almost too much for a man to hope for so much rare awesome taste in one woman.

My thoughts exactly. A woman who knows the Smiths like Summer seems like a prize and is placed on a pedestal to further the guy’s life; a woman who bakes cookies like Joan Cleaver seems like a prize and is placed on a pedestal to further the guy’s life. Same bullshit, different shades.

Look, I know why guys like Summer. I get it, she’s a cute and lovable muse. But she’s a shitty character. Why can’t she be something even remotely resembling a real fleshed-out female? (Does it have something to do with male writers? Capturing the male audience?) Why is it that films, about love mind you, like 500 Days of Summer and Garden State with their Manic Pixie Dream Girls aren’t considered chick flicks, but movies with strong/career-minded/three-dimensional women are considered chick flicks and rom coms? (I’m think of movies like Bend it Like Beckham or Out of Africa or even Sex and the City.)

But feel free to argue with me. Do you not think the MPDG is a big deal? Is there a male version of the MPDG? Can you imagine 500 Days of Summer with the male/female roles reversed and have it called anything but a chick flick?

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21 responses to “500 Days of Summer, or, Why I Hate the Manic Pixie Dream Girl

  1. MPDGs are just annoying hipster chicks who(m?) I want to deck. They are completely annoying. They are not at all unique; walking around Uptown (my new neighborhood) I see five on every block. OMG sleeve tattoos and large headphones?! WILL U B MY GF?!?!

  2. You know what’s sad. Holly Golightly is like the go-to MPDG. She was written by a man though.

    Why is it that “popular” female icons written by men are so Manic Pixie “perfect” and “together” While those written by women (like Bridget Jones or even Liz Lemon for more recent examples) are flawed psycho marriage-hunters?

  3. oh god i know i read that. and once again i say, can you imagine if the tables were turned and a female wrote that way about a male? just think of the shit she’d get, the names she’d be called. the double standard is ridonkulous.

  4. Great site…keep up the good work.

  5. I saw this movie too, and I have to say I enjoyed the aspect of it but hated it. No, I hated HER. Because she is the type to play with someone’s heart and then pulls the rug from underneath them. This character doesn’t just represent women, she represents the Manic Pixie Dream Guy as well. Yea, this was the movie I last saw with a guy who pulled that stunt. Irony at it’s finest.

  6. I hated her too… honestly I saw a lot of similarities between myself and “Summer’s” outlook on relationships. What I gathered from the plot was that she’s a bit of a commitment-phobe and she has somewhat of a “male” mentality when it comes to love. Yet, in spite of all the similarities (even their date to Ikea!) I couldn’t help but despise her. Maybe it was the characteristics that I saw in her that I wish to improve in myself… or maybe it’s the fact that she was so cold hearted. It’s hard to hurt someone, and she didn’t even seem to care.

  7. “Why is it that films, about love mind you, like 500 Days of Summer and Garden State with their Manic Pixie Dream Girls aren’t considered chick flicks, but movies with strong/career-minded/three-dimensional women are considered chick flicks and rom coms? (I’m think of movies like Bend it Like Beckham or Out of Africa or even Sex and the City.)”

    Because the latter don’t have the indie soundtrack only guys can appreciate 😉

    Great article, interesting points.

    You might wanna check out my movie review of it…

    Anna

  8. Great article – I say so because – well because they could have been written from my own pen.

    I didn’t like Summer nor her neurotic bits (naked in bed in one scene where our poor bloke feels he hit the jackpot or worst yet, like a puppet he’s made to scream Penis in a crowded park)

    In regards to the latter, I’d said to her directly “this isn’t quirky – you need to be on meds you Crazy B”.

    Lastly, I liked his character – the every day guy looking for a little happiness while trying to retain his belief in humans. I hope Autumn works out for him – she may not know the Smiths – but reducing it all back to the primal fact she is 10 times better looking that the Pixie – has it’s advantages.

    Cheers

  9. Totally, am so glad to find someone who shares the same thoughts as me about this movie. I hated Summer. I could kill that heartless bitch, really.

  10. Well … i have a MPDG with me for some years …
    what now ?
    Life is kidding me for a while … ?

  11. or im simple blind ?

  12. Well written my friend, critique well done.

  13. CANYOUJUSTF&*KOFF

    This article clearly shows the writer has sold his/her soul to porn

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  15. Pingback: The Manic Pixie Dream Girl « anextensionof

  16. Revolutionary would be having characters that don’t necessarily push and represent some hyperbolic version of an archetype, but just is. They would just feel human and make everything around them seem real as well, therefore making them naturally extremely relevant. Hardly has this been achieved, perhaps because of how seldom it has been valued and attempted.
    If the roles were reversed in this nightmare of a plot, the guy would by unwritten rule, HAVE to come back. This is because the collective conscious places women in a weaker position, so to leave her stranded or left holding the back from ill-fate or mistreatment would not be allowed, despite the fact that it REALLY does happen in real life and would even serve as major catharsis, but alas, filmmakers and such are wussies. It is a parallel of the rules of comedy: the weak may deride the strong, but not the other way around.
    All of this is more than annoying for a person who has only ever been into what is truly real.

  17. I couldn’t believe this girl. I loved zooey in “Yes Man”. But that story couldn’t be possible either, she played the same role in every movie except this one because she didnt believe in love. HOW COULD SHE DO THAT!… My entire idea of her was totally different, well I guess Im no better than Tom. It seemed like it was only in the end when things fell into place with Autumn that he finally forgave Summer. What kind of shit is that I wouldn’t… So the message Im getting here is its ok for girls toy with guys because in the end it had a reason. No there is no reason, we make our choice and summer chose to lead Tom on even after she began seeing her husband. In my book that is a class A upper middle class stuck up C word.

  18. I liked thinking about one of your last points imagining if the sexes in 500 days of summer were reversed and how it would be just another rom-com then. I think you’re right. I think people would more readily see that the manic pixie dream guy is a really flat character that would not exist in reality. Seriously why can’t people write better women characters with some sense of humanity? What gives?

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