Romantic comedies comprise some of the most clearly manipulative examples of media today. It is made clear to the audience how much two characters deserve to be together, if only because they are both physically attractive. These archetypes, though blatant, serve to consciously or otherwise influence the way we live our romantic lives. We imagine there is someone out there simply dying to be ours. Someone who is mind-numbingly good-looking and distinctively superior in any other way we might choose. Someone who, when the going gets tough, will respond appropriately with a boom box outside our window, or a kiss in the rain.
One specific archetype that has been gathering steam is the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (a term coined by Nathan Rabin in this review of Elizabethtown for The AV Club). She is a character found often in ‘quirky’ romantic comedies. At first glance, she is the perfect girl. Yet don’t be fooled–deep down, she only serves to disappoint the romantic men of America. Examples of Manic Pixie Dream Girls are everywhere. Some of the more famous star in Garden State, Elizabethtown, and My Funny Girl. The movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind has its character Clementine refute the very idea that she is one; (500) Days of Summer is a sort of manifesto against the concept (interestingly, the film’s color scheme is built around the bright blue doe eyes of Summer, played by Zooey Deschanel).
The MPDG is quirky. She’s beautiful, reckless, witty, spontaneous. She likes dancing in the rain and lying in the middle of the street to look at the stars. She’s unpredictable–which is likely a big reason she’s so appealing. The modern American has romanticized ideas of what they want in a relationship and the MPDG satisfies them. In (500) Days of Summer, Tom falls in love with Summer–but more so with the concept of her than actually with her. He has an idea of who “the one” might be, and Summer seems to fit the bill.
The MPDG is in fact a manipulative construct. She serves to make the average American believe in a superficial kind of love, a love that’s always exciting and unpredictable. She also indulges selfishness; the men opposite her in movies are typically boring, moody, and unfulfilled. Now, they find fulfillment in her. But she merely serves as a muse, or as a girl on a pedestal for them to worship. There is no real balance to the relationship. What does she get out of it? Not only do men in the audience start to believe in the concept, but the women are affected as well. Many women believe this is what men are looking for and thus strive to be random, crazy, unpredictable, and bizarre.
To protect against such manipulation, we should be conscious of the MPDG in the romantic films we see. Better yet, try to stick to films that are very aware of the construct and actively fight it, like Eternal Sunshine and (500) Days of Summer. I’m absolutely not saying that looking for fulfillment in one’s love life is wrong–but a more balanced relationship is likely to last longer. Looking for such a character will only serve to disappoint.