To lump together all individual, original quirky women under that rubric is to erase all difference
July 27, 2012 10:19 AM   Subscribe

The new film Ruby Sparks, written by actress Zoe Kazan, both deals with and argues against the concept of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

MPDG Previously
posted by Potomac Avenue (41 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Kurt Loder reviews Ruby Sparks for Reason
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:22 AM on July 27, 2012


It is a power he will eventually, inevitably, abuse.

You have, literally at your fingertips, the ability to do anything. You could make her fart golden eggs if you wanted, and make her enjoy every second of it. Show me one person who could do something like that and wouldn't start messing about, just one little change, yes, green eyes are better...
posted by Old'n'Busted at 10:26 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


It should also be noted (in case the marketing hasn't beaten it into you already) that this is the second film from the creators of Little Miss Sunshine, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris.
posted by mykescipark at 10:28 AM on July 27, 2012


This probably shouldn't be true, and I almost definitely shouldn't say it out loud, but I was interested in this movie when I heard the plot (guy's fictional character comes to life), but I'm much more interested now that I know it was written by a woman.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:34 AM on July 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


Galatea
posted by infini at 10:35 AM on July 27, 2012 [10 favorites]


I hadn't heard about this movie until now, but it sounds promising. Turning the MPDG trope on its head is something that needs to be done.
posted by asnider at 10:42 AM on July 27, 2012


MCMikeNamara: I don't think there's anything wrong with that. It's a lot more interesting to me as a piece from the perspective of an actress with experience being cast in movies, whether as a MPDG or not, particularly one from such a rich lineage of filmmakers.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:45 AM on July 27, 2012


I don't know from Zoe Kazan, but Dano sounds like a good choice. Let's by all means put the MPDG out of our misery.
posted by lodurr at 10:45 AM on July 27, 2012


oh, I see Dano was somewhat predestined for the role.
posted by lodurr at 10:47 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


From the Fempop article: It broadens it simply to include any woman who is sort of kooky and dates a man who is sort of straight-laced. By this broader definition Sherlock Holmes and Richard Castle are Manic Pixie Dream Boys.

Heh. BBC Sherlock as a romantic comedy? He doesn't know the solar system - kooky! He fixes John's psychosomatic limp by taking him on madcap adventures around London! Has a pet rabbit that glows!
posted by book 'em dano at 10:47 AM on July 27, 2012 [10 favorites]


The song at the beginning of the trailer is The Mae Shi's The Lamb and The Lion, which you can listen to here!
posted by Greg Nog at 10:49 AM on July 27, 2012


That Fempop article is very astute and puts its finger on one of the reasons I get uncomfortable with the whole MPDG label. It becomes a way of not actually thinking about what the story is doing: you just note that a female character is a bit quirky and that her quirkiness has some effect on a guy in the movie and BAM, you can write the movie off as another tedious example of the MPDG trope.

There are lots of ways, good and bad, cliched and not, to be interested in the interactions between introverted and extroverted characters. In fact, in almost any drama that will be a standard way of creating tension between the characters (think--to take gender issues out of the equation--of "The Odd Couple"). Just pointing out that a character could (if you squint enough) be described as an MPDG is not an adequate or even a very useful critique of the work as a whole.
posted by yoink at 10:59 AM on July 27, 2012 [14 favorites]


I never thought that Stranger than Fiction needed a sequel.
posted by sparklemotion at 11:01 AM on July 27, 2012


I like the MPDG trope, because, you know, it's escapism. If I wanted reality I wouldn't watch comic book movies either. I'm also fond of shows with strong intelligent female roles, but I don't see anything wrong with the MPDG trope by itself.
posted by cjorgensen at 11:02 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't know about MPDG, but the trailer for that movie made it look like a Weird Science remake. Why do (fictional) men want to invent perfect fictional women who conform to their every fantasy and lack any of their own flaws/complexities/humanity? What a pathetic message about men.

Hopefully it's actually a feminist critique of this trope?
posted by latkes at 11:12 AM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


That Flavorwire review was excellent, particularly since I had no idea about this trope nor the concept of the unidimensional female. But this snippet caught my attention,

But I just think the term really means nothing; it’s just a way of reducing people’s individuality down to a type, and I think that’s always a bad thing. And I think that’s part of what the movie is about, how dangerous it is to reduce a person down to an idea of a person.” Her script is a funny and romantic, but also insightful and haunting, case study in the difference between archetypes and individuals.

Fighting against being treated as the "idea of the person" rather than the very human, very complicated persons we actually are, is part of the struggle as well, imho, we might face sometimes. If this movie can actually make people think, as deeply as the reviewers and writers have, then I wish it all the best.
posted by infini at 11:14 AM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I like the MPDG trope, because, you know, it's escapism. If I wanted reality I wouldn't watch comic book movies either. I'm also fond of shows with strong intelligent female roles, but I don't see anything wrong with the MPDG trope by itself.

It's the Magic Negro of gender-typed movie roles, that's all.
posted by verb at 11:15 AM on July 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


Yeah, the MPDG I knew always wanted to drop E and get naked.

Then again, there is an age where a great number of young women all behave, to some extent, like a MPDG. It's, like, a thing, y'know?
posted by clvrmnky at 11:23 AM on July 27, 2012


In reading the interview with Zoe Kazan, I think she's overlooking what a lot of people find objectionable about the MPDG trope. To wit:

"I think that to lump together all individual, original quirky women under that rubric is to erase all difference."

Individuality, originality, and quirkiness aren't really enough to merit the MPDG label. A lot of it boils down to the inherent relationship a character has to the male protagonists in a film. The true MPDG exists primarily to enlighten the stuffy male lead, to bring spirit and spontaneity to his ordered world.

Clearly, I haven't watched Ruby Sparks yet, but the tailer made it appear as if they'd found a way to double down on the MPDG, rather than subverting it. The male lead literally conjours his inspirational free spirit out of nothingness, using just his own words. The MPDG isn't even an external cliche: the male lead is the answer to his own problem, and the female character is simply the cutest and most convenient mechanism.

I'd be happy to see the trope subverted, but Zoe's response to the question suggests that she sees the MPDG as a broad critique of 'quirky people' rather than a problematic type of relationship between two characters.
posted by verb at 11:23 AM on July 27, 2012 [12 favorites]


Hiruma from Eyeshield 21 is another Manic Pixie Dream Boy - but I wonder if the difference is in agency. MPDG's seem to exist to bring joy into the life of the joyless, where with MPDB's are intent on doing their own thing, and bringing the love interest along for the ride, almost incidentally. If the girl has a motivation of her own beyond being quirky, it's seen as dangerous - Tank Girl, Lina Inverse. It also denies her a range of emotion - she cannot be seen as sad, depressed, angry or even content, unless it's in a comedic light, where the boys at least get to be sternly heroic from time to time.

So my problem with the trope, from either direction, MPDG or MPDB, is that the woman is expected to render a specific emotional service to the man; but not the other way around. There's no "Stable and Patient Dream Hunk" trope... that story's not allowed to be told, or if it is, it's the worst sort of patronizing Daddy-Knows-Best b.s.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:26 AM on July 27, 2012 [8 favorites]


See, here's the thing: the MPDG was really just a way of moving beyond the sad and tired stereotype of wise old person -- which we've really been *totally over* as a society for a while, anyway (I mean, seriously, *old people*, right?) -- who we love and learn from and then they die or get alzheimers or move to a retirement home in Vegas or something.

And like extended family is really kindof done to death (have you ever tried to watch The Waltons? OMG), we're also investing more in our ideas of romance and even serial romance.

But, yeah, I agree, MPDG is getting to be a way overused device -- it should be obvious by the fact that we all recognize it whenever we see it now.

We're gonna need something new, something fresh, maybe a talking cup of kombucha that's also a wise life coach but is accidentally drunk by your roomate.
posted by weston at 11:32 AM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I kind of thought that the Cruz character in Vanilla Sky (and also in Obre los Ojos, but not to the same extent) was kind of a statement on the existence of a MPDG trope rather than a straight ahead example of it. That's in reference to the 75 years of MPDG video above. Just a thought.
posted by 3200 at 11:49 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


maybe a talking cup of kombucha that's also a wise life coach but is accidentally drunk by your roomate.

Tell me again about this--what is it?--a new way?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:59 AM on July 27, 2012


maybe a talking cup of kombucha that's also a wise life coach but is accidentally drunk by your roomate.

Or a talking can of vegetables?
posted by cottoncandybeard at 12:15 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


How about a talking boil?
posted by latkes at 12:25 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Heh. BBC Sherlock as a romantic comedy? He doesn't know the solar system - kooky! He fixes John's psychosomatic limp by taking him on madcap adventures around London! Has a pet rabbit that glows!

The fanfiction was being written before the first episode was done airing in the UK.
posted by Squeak Attack at 12:37 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


That Fempop article is very astute and puts its finger on one of the reasons I get uncomfortable with the whole MPDG label.

I enjoyed the Fempop article too. I was very amused by the MPDG label when I first heard it, because it explained a type of movie plot I had always found annoying and limited for the female character. It helped me understand why movies like Something Wild left me wanting to poke someone in the eye.

However, I think broadening the tern and then applying it to characters like those played by Katherine Hepburn is a truly bad call. Or as the Fempop article concisely says, "What once an astute criticism of a tired stereotype that hurts women, has now become a blanket term to immediately dismiss the characterization of women."
posted by Squeak Attack at 12:43 PM on July 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


See, here's the thing: the MPDG was really just a way of moving beyond the sad and tired stereotype of wise old person

Could it be argued that Maude from Harold and Maude is both a WOP and a MPDG, and might therefore be understood as a key transitional figure in assessing the functions and development of both stereotypes? Man I wish I was in a critical film studies class right now, I would totally be writing this paper.
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:30 PM on July 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


Anyone interested in Manic Pixie Dream Girls should run, not walk, to wherever it is they can see the most recent two episodes of Louie. (Season 3, Episodes 4 and 5 -- most of the show can be watched in any order, but this is a rare two-part episode.)

I'll quote The New Yorker's review, because they (of all publications, The New Yorker!) have stumbled upon the appropriate effusive register to convey my admiration for this show:

"Season 1 was good; Season 2 was better. [...] the third season of “Louie” is a revelation. It’s so good I’m afraid to praise it too highly, for fear you’ll be let down.

The new episodes start well, then keep improving, with narrative clarity and a fresh visual beauty. [...] The fourth episode is also terrific. And then comes the fifth, which is so good that I don’t even want to talk about it, which puts me in an odd position as a critic. (On Twitter, I said the episode was so good “it beat the previous episodes to death.”) So, you know, go watch it. Maybe you won’t like it as much as I did: it happens. I just want you to find it for yourself."

posted by spanishbombs at 2:00 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


^weird, I was *just* about to mention the Louie episode spanishbombs is talking about there. The last couple of minutes of it are just exceptional, and it speaks directly to the subject (or meta-subject) of the FPP- the real, human costs (and probably causes) of real-life MPDGism. Be sure to watch all the way through the credits, too - the closing montage is really... moving?
posted by hap_hazard at 2:12 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Clearly, I haven't watched Ruby Sparks yet, but the tailer made it appear as if they'd found a way to double down on the MPDG, rather than subverting it. The male lead literally conjours his inspirational free spirit out of nothingness, using just his own words. The MPDG isn't even an external cliche: the male lead is the answer to his own problem, and the female character is simply the cutest and most convenient mechanism.

I think this might be a trailer problem, though, because I had the same reaction when I first saw it, but reviews seem to indicate that it's part of the subversion: he literally dreams into life a cheerful free-spirit who's supposed to solve all of his problems (and as you point out, the defining factor with an MPDG isn't quirkiness; it's that she's a vehicle for solving the male main character's problems, not a character in her own right), but it turns out that having a quirky girlfriend doesn't actually turn you into a better person and he winds up treating her quite badly because he doesn't understand that. I haven't seen the film yet, so I don't know if it succeeds, but I think the fictional-character-comes-to-life device is important to the deconstruction.
posted by kagredon at 2:59 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm with kagredon on this one, based on the links in the FPP. Unfortunately, trailers and other marketing materials often seem to misrepresent movies in really weird ways (for example, this poster for Cedar Rapids makes it looks like some kind of low-budget, screwball comedy, which is not a great summary of the actual movie (aside, probably, from the low-budget part)).

Maybe the studio is marketing Ruby Sparks as something different than what it actually is based on who they assume is the target audience.
posted by asnider at 3:26 PM on July 27, 2012


I was on board for this. Then I found out that one plot point involves a skin-crawlingly cloying earworm. Since even typing the title would inflect me with said earworm for days, I'm going to wait for this to come out on DVD so I can mute and/or fast-forward through the use of that "song." (Seriously, Zoe? Couldn't you have used something less awful for your character to sing while she skips around?)
posted by pxe2000 at 3:27 PM on July 27, 2012


Heh. BBC Sherlock as a romantic comedy? He doesn't know the solar system - kooky! He fixes John's psychosomatic limp by taking him on madcap adventures around London! Has a pet rabbit that glows!

Heh indeed. If you haven't realized that part of the charm of the series is that it is, in fact, a romantic comedy, and much of its audience watches it on exactly those terms.
posted by jokeefe at 3:28 PM on July 27, 2012


Crap, editing window, arrgh. Try again: If you haven't realized that part of the charm of the series is that it is, in fact, a romantic comedy, and that much of its audience watches it on exactly those terms, then you haven't been paying attention.
posted by jokeefe at 3:29 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is the earworm the Kaiser Chiefs song, or is that just on the clips I've seen of the film over here? That song is insanely catchy. I think it stuck in my head for most of 2008.
posted by mippy at 4:14 PM on July 27, 2012


No, mippy. It's a kid's song that's written by Sharon, Lois, and Bram. I'm not typing the title because even the title is that stupid.
posted by pxe2000 at 4:47 PM on July 27, 2012


Cracked did it.
posted by Apocryphon at 5:55 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thinking about it, I suppose the original Magic Pixie Dream Boy was Peter Pan.
posted by yoink at 6:38 AM on July 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


What kagredon said. Take a look at the featurette on Apple's site for a bit of a different take than the trailer reveals. I'm definitely interested.
posted by odinsdream at 8:31 PM on July 30, 2012


I saw this movie over the weekend and would love to discuss it here. Do you think it's all right to mention spoilers since this thread has been open for more than two weeks now?

Has anyone else seen it? What did you think of the ending?
Here's the AV Club "Spoiler Space" take and comments on it. (obvi: spoilers at the link)
posted by flex at 1:46 PM on August 13, 2012


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