Navigating the Manic Pixie Dream Minefield

Hello fellas.

Look at your woman. Now look at this article, now back to your woman, now back to this article. Sadly, this article isn’t a woman, but it was written by one, and I’d to talk to you men, and ladies, about that most crafty of stock women, the infamous Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

I am speaking as one of the cynical converted. I had my phase in my mid-teens. Oh, most women do these days. It starts small, with an unrealistic obsession with The Smiths and anime, and ends with being so hyper and peppy and quirky and kitsch that, apparently, everyone in the universe can’t help but fall in love with your girlish charm.

NOPE NOPE NOPE

NOPE NOPE NOPE

For those not in the know, TV Tropes does a wonderful job of mythbusting this type of woman wide open, and but in a nutshell, I posit that you can define your average MPDG as thus:

“A cutesy, hyperactive and shallow woman, that doesn’t have any defining personality types apart from being “bubbly” or “quirky”, often infantile to the point of ridiculousness, who displays a general inability to handle adult situations or behave in non-childish manner.” – B. Smith, 2014.

It’s a sickening trope so overused in modern cinema, literature and TV that, chances are, she’s up there with the 19th century Fallen Woman or the film noir Femme Fatale – the Manic Pixie is the archetypal 2D woman of the 21st century. No longer are women simply muses, they’ve got to be “quirky” muses.  Think the myth of Pygmalion, except the statue has an unhealthy obsession with New Wave English bands, Spongebob Squarepants and dip dying her hair a crraaaaazzzyyy colour!

The MPDG – not only is she attractive, but she’s so quirky and cute and desirable! She loves whacky adventures! She probably can’t define irony! She LOVES exclamation marks! What’s more, her existence will stop you from your faux-depressive funk and encourage you to love life again! The only catch is that she’s a detrimental fantasy that will unequivocally ruin the wellbeing of the woman in question, the relationship you’re having with her, and generally your understanding as to how real, functional adult people work.

 

ALSO NOPE NOPE NOPE

ALSO NOPE NOPE NOPE

I’d argue that there are two branches to the stock MPDG character:

1)    Women who genuinely aspire to be manic pixie dream girls, or, in a twist of fate,

2)   Men who project the manic pixie dream girl image onto desirable women;

There’s a reason why most MPDGs are cooked up by male scriptwriters looking for a new ideal of woman: the fantasy that a single person holds the key to all personal and romantic salvation.  Your MPDG isn’t merely your love interest, she is the reason for your creative flair, your rediscovered happiness, your sense of purpose etc etc. Women might have their men in shining armour; but men have their manic pixie dream fairies, always giggling, always twirling, twirling.

But it’s that second type of MPDG – the projected MPDG – which might be the worst kind. Ladies and gentleman of the jury, I present you with the archetypal case of the “projected” MPDG – Summer Finn from 500 Days of Summer.

Oh hai, Zooey DeschaDreambait

Oh hai, Zooey DeschaDreambait

 

For those who haven’t seen the classic romcom, go do so. Because I think it might be the most effective debunking of projected MPDGs that has so far been displayed on screen. Throughout Tom’s narrative, we’re led to believe that Summer isn’t really a person. She is a perfect MPDG fantasy, quirky and cute and nothing else.

Only the twist is – and it took me multiple views of the film to realise this – that Summer is a real person. She makes stupid choices like the rest of us. I wouldn’t be surprised if she has a solid education, strong views on ethics and morality and a subscription to TIME magazine. The problem is that both Tom, and the scriptwriters, never let us see that. We only see Summer as Tom wants to see her – all sepia tinted shots, super close ups, and lots and lots of innocent blue ribbon *cough* *SYMBOLISM* *cough*.

It's EVERYWHERE... Oh god, not the blue dress, NOT THE BLUE DRESS! BLLAAAAAAHHHHH! IT'S IN MY EYES, MY EYES, MY EEEEYYYEESSS!

It’s EVERYWHERE… Oh god, not the blue dress, NOT THE BLUE DRESS! BLLAAAAAAHHHHH! IT’S IN MY EYES, MY EYES, MY EEEEYYYEESSS!

Perhaps she has a really cool hobby or interesting anecdotes about her childhood. Perhaps she studied in a really prestigious college, perhaps she has radical political opinions, and perhaps her favourite style of cooking is something other than “baking”. We’ll never know. All Tom knows is he loves her “smile”. We only ever see the film through Tom’s perspective.  “Summer”, Tom’s ideal of true love, is a fantasy without any real voice in the movie. But Summer, the reality, is only ever depicted off screen. Her real desires and dreams don’t correlate with Tom’s fantasy childlike woman, so we are never allows see them.

Ultimately, the MPDG is defined by arbitrary choices, like a hello kitty backpack, a necklace, a hipster ironic kindle cover. Her view of the world isn’t a genuine wonder or excitement but a kind of hyperactive squeal, pointing out Smiths Vinyls and American chocolate and with equal measure ditz and quirk. What does she think about, besides her comic books and hair dye? Not much, apparently. You’ve got to ask yourselves – are these kind of relationships, these inevitably artificial relationships based on a legacy of male wish fulfillment, what you want for yourselves?

Now ladies and fellas, look at yourselves. Now look at this article, now back to yourselves, now back to this article. Are you, or are you dating, a MPDG? Are you and your relationships made of about as much empty sugar, hollow air and artificial pink flavourings as so much candy floss? If so, it might be time to give 500 Days of Summer a rewatch. I’m on a horse.

For more more detailed analysis of Zooey Deschanel, damaging stock characters or more successful parodies of the Old Spice Guy, you should follow VFM on Twitter or Facebook. Alternatively, you could try jumping on a trampoline and screaming very loudly while trying to inspire a man having an artistic crisis, but it’s not the recommended method of getting in touch. 

How I Live Now: All You Need Is Love… And Saoirse Ronan!

You can throw a stone in any movie theatre in the world right now and hit at least five posters all advertising movies set in a post apocalyptic world. If there’s not a brown-haired chick with a bow and arrow killing villains with genetically enhanced bees then there’s a red-head fighting against the government in a black vest top with a sexy male counterpart. It’s the thing right now, and don’t get me wrong, I’m kind of loving it. I have a fetish for all things alternative world-y and I’m not apologizing. Give me a Saturday night in with a Daim Bar infused block of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk and the “next big thing” in YA fiction and I’m a pretty satisfied boy. However, after fifty-thousand pages of sweaty fight scenes and stolen looks across at the broody yet sensitive fight instructor it can feel as if they all blur into one. Young adult writers really have to find a way to get ahead of the curve and present the audience with something fresh, whilst maintaining all those attributes that keeps the genre so popular.

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Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now, released in 2004, really sets itself apart in the YA stakes, flying pretty much under the radar but entertaining and traumatizing all those who find it on the shelf. It focuses on Manhattan brat and struggling anorexic Daisy who heads on over to the other side of the pond to live with her cousins just as a third world war devastates the world. The film was released this year and features the enchanting Saoirse Ronan in the lead role. You would think an Irish girl playing an American in England would present a challenge for most actresses but not Miss Ronan, the girl has caused scandal and devastation in Atonement and played a cut-throat killer assassin in Hanna so her range knows no bounds. As Daisy arrives she struggles to get involved with her cousins’ way of life. They swim, they fish and they frolic in lovely hills from sunrise to sunset and that really isn’t Daisy’s bag. However, dark and brooding Edmond (played by George MacKay) manages to break her down and together they embark on a tempestuous and incestuous love affair that is so cute and British, you half expect Hugh Grant to turn up! But alas, their love is rocked when terrorists release a nuclear bomb in London, world war three is declared, and Daisy and Edmond are separated but not before promising each other that they’ll return to their idyllic life some how, some way!

As a soppy romantic with a love of hand held camera style filming, I was in cinematic nirvana. Ronan and MacKay’s chemistry is so enticing and impacting, they’ve got to be getting it on in real life! The very British feel and the fact that the plot is so grounded in reality is what makes How I Live Now a remarkable YA adaptation. As Daisy and her young cousin, Piper, embark across the country to return to the past they encounter the true horrors of war and the film does not shy away from expressing the real darkness of humanity when all types of order have been abolished. I won’t go into much more detail, but I think you know what I’m eluding to. As the film progresses the suspense never lets up, as Daisy and Piper travel further and further into danger you get a sense that there may not be a happy ending after all.

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The film may bombed at the box office which I think is a shame, as How I Live Now is a film that very much presents the YA genre in a fresh and original way, and not to mention the actors are realistically good-looking which is always a bonus. Not without it’s faults, of course, as Daisy’s dream-sequences are so fanciful that the stark reality style shoots are slightly tarnished, also Miss Ronan gives us a nip-slip that is just not needed and makes you feel a little weird. But I digress, How I Live Now is a fantastic film that both entertains and illuminates whilst gives off the meaningful message in regards to the importance of people and how life really is a blessing. Sniff! 

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What We Love This Week…”Frances Ha”!

noah-baumbach-frances-ha_1

This week, we love the trailer for Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha starring Greta Gerwig. Just ’cause we can’t get enough of off-beat, coming-of-age New York comedies about women who are trying to find their feet. I’m looking at you, Lena Dunhan.

Plus, who doesn’t like a bit of David Bowie with their Thursday mornings?

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THE BLING RING: Just How ‘Hollywood’ Is It?

Coppola does what Coppola does best in her new release. In fact, there is little to fault about the directing; clever shots, interesting components, and a seamless switch between the real life footage and the screenplay, makes the hard task of bringing the 2008 crime spree to the screen difficult to condemn. Yet, despite casting the infamous Emma Watson, The Bling Ring is not suited for the red carpet it hails from.

Coppola and her Hollywood A-listers at Paris Hilton's house. I've heard of 'face-cake' but a cushion?! Oh dear Paris...

Coppola and her Hollywood A-listers at Paris Hilton’s house. I’ve heard of ‘face-cake’ but a cushion?! Oh dear Paris…

As one of the few female directors hitting the big screen, Coppola has made a name for herself through, sometimes controversial, but always clever films. In her most recent venture, she dares to tackle the real life 2008/9 crime spree of Hollywood Hills teen Rachel Lee & co. Obsessed with the fashion and lifestyle, the group stole property accumulating to over $3 million from homes including Paris Hilton, Orlando Bloom, and Megan Fox. Coppola, of a privileged Hollywood upbringing herself, shows concern for the younger generations as those included within the film through unsympathetic characters, realistic footage, and a complete lack of emotion.

In the past, Coppola has stunned with her emotive debut, The Virgin Suicides, thrown a new perspective into the history of Marie Antoinette, and blown critics away with her unusual screenplay for‘Lost in Translation‘. However, the response on Coppola’s work is far from consistent. She has highlighted many questionable subjects and gone against conventions despite the media. And she does this once again with The Bling Ring. So, why isn’t this film great?!

The problem lies (mainly) with the two lead teenagers depicting gang members Nick Prugo and Rachel Lee. Teamed with awkward scripting, they make for uncomfortable watching from the beginning. Unlike their ring members, in the shape of American Horror Story’s Taissa Farmiga and world-famous witch Watson, their presence has been chosen for relatable looks over acting ability.  Coppola has the two meet and act in a surreal manner one would expect to see in the reality TV shows so admired by the real youths. But then perhaps that is the point. Whatever may be the reason, she leaves us disconnected and very much aware we are witnessing a real tale.

It is never clear with Coppola whether decisions are made purposefully or unsuccessfully. And perhaps that is why I left the viewing in a constant state of opinionated flux. But one thing is for certain, the characters are unlikeable for obvious reasons; this is not a platform for their namesakes. In fact, there is an obvious air that Coppola’s fascination with the story is of the disturbing obsession with celebrity.

With all active members of the robberies now released, it is inevitable some have used the media adaptation to their own advantage. This itself highlights the much deeper, darker issue of what it means to be famous in the 21st century. Through film she questions what worryingly defines the day modern celebrity. Drugs, vanity, money, and even jokes at the rehab and court habits of faces such as Lindsay Lohan, all play a role in the portrayal of modern day fame. The reality is only heightened by the response of 6-time target Paris Hilton; her cameo and offering of her own home for filming location stands as an example of the blasé attitude towards life far too common in a reality-television obsessed age.

Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom! Coppola lightly dusts the eerie disconnection with subtle jokes and, with it, keeps that air of realism. Yet, even then is the film disconcerting. Whilst the more ‘privileged’ amongst the audience seemed to find the exploits into fashion, celebrity, and theft humorous, I found myself in discomfort and disbelief.

Leaving the preview last night, its fair to say I am still in a dazed state of mind at what I saw.  Did I ‘like’ it? Yes…and no. At times, especially towards the beginning, it was stiff and, for a real life tale, unrealistic. But did I enjoy it as a cinematic experience? I suppose I did. As a ‘piece of art’ everything appears to have a purpose, whether that purpose is accessible to comfortable watching or not. But as a film… Let’s just say this is one watcher who won’t be purchasing the DVD. ‘The Bling Ring‘ belongs in the ArtHouse.

The Bling Ring opens in cinemas tomorrow!