Today on the Writer’s Glossary…
Manic Pixie Dream Girl (MPDG):
Manic Pixie Dream Girl (MPDG) is a term that was coined and later retracted by film critic Nathan Rabin, after seeing Kirstin Dunst in Elizabethtown. He used it to describe the problematic trend for films with quirky, free-spirited female characters who are simply there to help the central male character find themselves or loosen up and enjoy life.
The MPDG has no motivation, life or backstory of her own. She is just there as an almost mystical guide for the moping, angsty man. And once her job is done, she usually disappears either figuratively by settling down with the now liberated man or literally by flitting out of his life.
Zooey Deschanel’s character in 500 Days of Summer and Natalie Portman in Garden State are usually held up as the quintessential MPDGs. Kate Winslet’s character in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is often accused of being a MPDG, but she actually subverts the trope.
Rabin has called for people to abandon the term, as it has become a sexist label in itself, even being used to describe real people, as well as to dismiss eccentric, female characters of any kind.
It is used less in fiction (see John Green novels), but it’s a trope worth being aware of, as girlfriends and love interests can quickly become mere narrative tools, rather than fully realised characters with their own internal worlds.