Manic Pixie Dream Girls: A Cinematic Scourge? They're bright, they're perky — and they've got no inner life. In fact, they exist only to soothe the tortured souls of the male lead. A lighthearted look at MPDGs throughout movie history.
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Manic Pixie Dream Girls: A Cinematic Scourge?

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Manic Pixie Dream Girls: A Cinematic Scourge?

Manic Pixie Dream Girls: A Cinematic Scourge?

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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There are certain characters in the movies that we always recognize, the mad scientist, the hooker with the heart of gold, the girl next door, these types. Add to that list the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She's a daffy, dazzling ray of sunshine. Her sole purpose is to enliven the hearts of those around her. You can see her latest incarnation in the move opening Friday called "Happy Go Lucky."

Unidentified Woman #1: Yeah, I was just enjoying the silence.

Ms. SALLY HAWKINS: (As Poppy) I did that.

BLOCK: That's the zany London school teacher named Poppy, played by Sally Hawkins. As NPR's Neda Ulaby reports, Poppy is just one in a long line of Manic Pixie Dream Girls.

NEDA ULABY: The idea of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl came to film critic Nathan Raven after he watched a movie called Elizabethtown. It's about a girl who perks up a mopey guy with her wacky, lovable antics, including an eight hour long cell phone conversation.

Unidentified Man #1: (unintelligible)

Unidentified Woman #2: Yes, it does.

Unidentified Woman #3: And I have to get up in two hours and be charming.

ULABY: That kind of upbeat ingenue was familiar to Raven, who writes for the (unintelligible) AB Club. He'd seen her on screen in movies like "Breakfast At Tiffany's," "Amelie," "Almost Famous," and innumerable other films with young women crawling out of windows and jumping on the bed.

Mr. NATHAN RAVEN (Film Critic): My God, that's what Manic Pixie Dream Girls do. They don't live lives. They don't have jobs or career. They just frolic and have fun and meet new people with a sense of life's infinite possibilities.

ULABY: Primarily, Manic Pixie Dream Girls persuade the hero to live a little.

Mr. RAVEN: Well, they kind of exist to help the protagonist. They don't really have a life of their own, and they've got inner conflicts.

ULABY: Exhibit A: Natalie Portman in the movie "Garden State."

Ms. NATALIE PORTMAN: (As Sam) You know what I do when I feel completely un-original? I make a noise, or I do something that no one has ever done before, and then I can feel unique again even if it's only for like a second.

ULABY: Exhibit B, the flighty heiress in "Bringing Up Baby." Katharine Hepburn goads Cary Grant's uptight professor into chasing leopards throughout the Connecticut countryside.

Ms. KATHARINE HEPBURN: (As Susan Vance) Oh, look, baby, I lost my heel. Look at me walk. Para-pampa-pam-pam-rapa-pampapam...

Mr. CARY GRANT: (As Dr. David Huxley) Susan...

Mr. RAVEN: Manic Pixie Dream Girls, they have no use for suicidal conventions. And men in these movies, they are like, oh, they're, you know, working, and they've got mortgages to worry about, and then these women just seem to exist.

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) Butterflies are real

ULABY: Every decade, says Raven, has a Manic Pixie Dream Girl of its own.

Mr. RAVEN: '60s and '70s are sort of hippie chicks to fulfill this archetype and sort of taught a lot of straights how to loosen up and have fun.

ULABY: Hence, Goldie Hawn, a sort of professional Manic Pixie Dream Girl, in movies like "Cactus Flower" and "Butterflies Are Free."

Ms. GOLDIE HAWN: (As Toni Simmons) They're love beads, and I want you to have them. They look groovy on you, especially when I fix your hair. Come on.

ULABY: Some of us find these charming creatures irritating. Critic Nathan Raven.

Mr. RAVEN: A lot of these MPDG's, as we call them, are incredibly divisive for either, like, wow, she's amazing; I'm in love with that character, or you're like, I want to strangle her in her sleep.

Ms. GOLDIE HAWN: (As Jill Tanner) I can tap dance. You want to see me tap dance?

Mr. EDWARD ALBERT: (As Don Baker) I would love to see you tap dance.

ULABY: The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a fundamentally dishonest character, says Raven, a male fantasy of a playful girl woman who arouses creativity and uncomplicated joy. But she is, in amusing, muse. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

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