The Manic Pixie Dream Girl
Dublin City University
(at time of presentation)
Liam Hanlon has recently completed an M.A. in Film and Television Studies at DCU in 2016, where he also graduated with a B.A. in Communication Studies. This audiovisual essay was created as part of Dr. Liz Greene's Audiovisual Essay module in 2016. His M.A. dissertation focused on the representation of female STEM professionals in film. Liam is currently working as a contributing writer for Film Ireland.
Nathan Rabin, “The Bataan Death March of Whimsy Case File #1: Elizabethtown”, AV Club, January 25, 2007, http://www.avclub.com/article/the-bataan-death-march-of-whimsy-case-file-1-emeli-15577
Doree Shafrir, “Indie Dream Girls”, The Daily Beast, July 21, 2009, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2009/07/20/indie-dream-girls.html.
After viewing the film adaptation of John Green’s novel Paper Towns in August 2015, which starred Cara Delevingne as the lead female character, I became aware of film critic Robbie Collin’s criticism of the film for including the trope of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
The trope and those four words had been on my mind ever since, encouraging me to further explore where this trope has previously featured in female character portrayals. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl was coined by Nathan Rabin in 2007 who argued that these female characters exist “solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures”. Essentially, female characters portraying this trope are included in films for the benefit of the male character and his personal progression, rather than her own.
In using the Manic Pixie Dream Girl as the basis for this audiovisual essay, I argue that the female protagonist in Marc Webb’s 500 Days of Summer is a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, in accordance with Nathan Rabin’s original description. Zooey Deschanel’s Summer enters the life of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Tom, who was initially a greeting card writer, and it’s through her influence that he rediscovers his passion for architecture.
Using both the Manic Pixie Dream Girl description and Laura Mulvey’s notion of the ‘male gaze’, this audiovisual essay explains that Summer’s inclusion in the film serves, “ultimately, as a vehicle for Tom to realize his goals and dreams” (Doree Shafrir). The female character, or the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, is only present for male characters such as Tom, and her own dreams are irrelevant.
Female characters deserve far better than to become a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.