Are manic pixie dream girls problematic?

With this trope featuring in films such as '500 Days of Summer', 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' and 'Scott Pilgrim vs the world', how problematic is the portrayal of manic pixie dream girls?

Rebecca Wright
17th March 2023
500 Days of Summer - Image taken from Twitter @TheCinesthetic
The manic pixie dream-girl is a well-known trope in modern cinema - the often quirky, insanely vivacious character who inspires male protagonists with their zest and beauty. Some of my favourite films include this kind of character, but is it reductive and problematic?

In short, yes. Yes it is. Whilst this character can make for an extremely entertaining watch, it starts and ends there. Manic-pixie-dream girls expose the extremely unrealistic expectations placed on women in real life. This is not to say that women can’t be quirky or different in films for them to be feminist, in fact films such as Amelie explore how these characteristics can exist in film without reducing women to a stereotype. 

The problem lies in the fact that the trope subliminally teaches us that men are, as default, the protagonist of every story. Manic-pixie-dream girls serve to tell us our limits, how we can be larger than life and still only big enough to fill a supporting role in a man’s life. What are women, after all, if not just beautiful creatures here to save men’s souls and make them better people?

Aside from being reductive, it’s also lazy writing. Often these characters are just underdeveloped female characters written by men for the purpose of pleasing men. But this is a matter that should be taken seriously, clearly society values one-dimensional, desirable, available women over anything close to the real thing.After watching a film where this is the case, I often think to myself ‘how can I be more like her?’, or ‘what is she doing that I’m not?’ Neither of which are particularly helpful questions, though they do aid the point I’m trying to make. Women are, and have always been, worth more than what they can mean to men, no matter how the media makes you feel. Women exist outside of the world of male validation, and film is luckily growing to reflect this.

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