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?