In his 2007 review of the film Elizabethtown (reviled by many, owned by me), Nathan Rabin of The Onion coined the term “Manic Pixie Dream Girl.” The term has since entered the general lexicon and is much used and abused by sneering film reviewers and smug film-goers alike. (That’s me! I’m both of those things!) Rabin defines the term thusly:
The Manic Pixie Dream Girl 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. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is an all-or-nothing-proposition. Audiences either want to marry her instantly (despite The Manic Pixie Dream Girl being, you know, a fictional character) or they want to commit grievous bodily harm against them and their immediate family.[Source AV Club]
Those industrious little AV Club monkeys, knowing gold when they saw it, wrote a fairly comprehensive follow-up piece listing notable MPDG. That list, however, doesn’t quite satisfy me because a) it focuses solely on romantic interests, which wasn’t necessarily a requirement in Rabin’s original definition, though certainly implied by “Dream Girl” and b) they left off Maude. How could you forget Maude? The earth is her body, her head is in the stars.
While the original notion was, in itself, a criticism of two-dimensional female characters, I’m wondering if the gents don’t deserve a little scrutiny. So here’s a smattering, you know how I love to smatter, of some gents who aren’t necessarily two-dimensional, but do, in the end, posses magical, transformative properties.
The Id: Brad Pitt in “Fight Club”
I was wondering the other day if, in the wake of Fight Club and the Sixth Sense we, the canny filmgoing audience, won’t be fooled again. Now I’m forever second guessing the existence of characters. (See, also, Denis Leary in The Secret Lives of Dentists)
The Romantic Interest: Hugh Grant in “Two Weeks Notice”
This is my least favorite brand…the romantic lead. The free-spirited male who allows the female to let her hair down (literally. . . figuratively…follicularly) has gone out of fashion of late. In earlier films, it was quite common for women to have their world-view changed by the influence of a man and one good booze session (see: Father Goose, Guys and Dolls, etc). Several feminist and date-rapey things come to mind, but I will admit I love the films in those parentheses. (Other, more loathsome, modern examples include The Ugly Truth and Leap Year, which wanted to be the wonderful French Kiss, but fell quite short of the mark.)
The Best Friend: Matthew Broderick in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”
So Ferris breaks Cameron Frye out of his tightly-wound, panic-ridden existence. Now I’d like him to do something about Cam’s hair. Perhaps a shower mohawk?
The Loose Cannon Partner: Tom Hanks in “Dragnet”
You’ve heard it over and over in parodies of film trailers, “He’s a straight-shooter who plays by the book, his partner is a loose-cannon who thinks outside the box, together, they just might take the world by storm.” In Dragnet, Hanks’ character loosens Aykroyd’s virginal Joe Friday up to such an extent that he eventually bags a future Baywatch babe. Job well done, Streebeck. (See, also, Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon)
The Substitute Son: Sam Rockwell in “Box of Moon Light”
This little seen Tom DiCillo indie was, nonetheless, Sam Rockwell’s breakout role. It’s where he debuted that glinty-eyed, toothsome, puckish brand of crazy we’ve come to know and love. His character, “The Kid,” helps John Turturro’s Al Fountain heal the issues he has with his up-bringing, allowing Al to be a better father to his own son. He does this, by the way, with bowls of Oreos and milk, purloined lawn ornaments and a food fight. I highly recommend you check it out on Netflix Instant Watch.
The Manic Pixie Dream Bot: Johnny Five in “Short Circuit”
Johnny Five helps Sheedy’s Steph-an-neeeee to love poorly made pancakes, dancing and Steve Guttenberg. But, really, who doesn’t love the Gutte?
Joanna Robinosn is holding out for a Manic Pixie Dream Bot. Once she finds him, they’ll never disassemble.