The Manic Pixie Dream Girl

The term Manic Pixie Dream Girl was coined by Nathan Rabin in his review of Cameron Crow’s Elizabethtown: “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.” Manic Pixie Dream Girls are incomplete characters who don’t seem to have a life of their own. Their sole purpose in the narrative is to help the male protagonist learn more about themselves and their purpose in life.


Claire Colburn (Kirsten Dunst) from Elizabethtown is the character that defined the Manic Pixie Dream Girl stereotype. She meets Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) on a flight, starting a quirky and charming conversation. At the end of the film, she provides him with a map and CD that leads him out of his depression.


Adventureland’s Em Lewin (Kirsten Stewart) is the young and carefree theme park attendant who enjoys impromptu midnight swims and helps James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) cope with the somewhat dubious hardship of having to take a summer job.


The “flaky and irresponsible” Penny from Seeking a Friend for the End of the World proves that all you need to be a Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a quirky haircut, a collection of LPs and an overwhelming sense of optimism to help Dodge Petersen (Steve Carell) track down his high school sweetheart.


In Almost Famous, Penny Lane (Kate Hudson) explains that she’s not a groupie, she’s the one who inspires the music of the film’s fictional band Stillwater. She’s a carefree spirit who one day dreams of going to Morocco.


In Garden State, Sam (Natalie Portman) is a quirky compulsive liar who helps rescue Andrew Largeman (Zack Braff) from his funk. Sam’s interests include impromptu dancing and The Shins.


In 500 Days of Summer, the eponymous Summer enjoys browsing record stores, yelling obscenities in the park and, like all Manic Pixie Dream Girls, helping the male protagonist realise his dreams.


Watch the Feminist Frequency’s video about Manic Pixie Dream Girls and answer the following questions.

1. What is a trope?

2. According to the video, what is a Manic Pixie Dream Girl and what role does this character usually play in films?

3. How are these characters represented?

4. Briefly describe the characters that the video examines, noting the films that they appeared in and the role they played in the narrative.

5. How does this stereotype perpetuate the idea of the muse and why is this damaging?


The State Home for Manic Pixie Dream Girls is a parody of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope by Natural Disastronauts, imagining the logical conclusion of a character who is so eccentric and quirky that they’re unable to function in society. “She said she wanted pancakes for dinner. So adorable…we danced in the rain to the music in our hearts, I felt alive, but then after a few months I started to realise that she was eating pancakes for every meal. She can’t feed herself. She can’t pay bills she just marvels at the wonder of every moment,” Kyle explains as he admits his wife to the facility. The video also pokes fun at the male protagonists in such films.


Read the articles Manic Pixie Dream Girls and The Problem with Manic Pixie Dream Girls.

1. According to the articles, what are some of the issues with this trope? Use short quotations from the articles to support your answers.


Write a brief essay on the representation of Manic Pixie Dream Girls in the films Garden StateScott Pilgrim vs the World and 500 Days of Summer.Your introduction should provide a clear definition of the stereotype.

Your body paragraphs should discuss the representation of these characters in these films, focusing on the following scenes:

Garden State


00:33:18 – 00:43:36.

Scott Pilgrim vs the World

00:11:34 – 00:14:53

00:19:06 – 00:22:15

500 Days of Summer

00:06:49 – 00:12:59

00:49:45 – 00:51:00

Ruby Sparks

00:10:06 – 00:15:24

Each of these paragraphs should start off with a topic sentence, e.g. In the film Garden State, Sam (Natalie Portman) is represented as a manic pixie dream girl. This character is constructed using a combination of camera techniques, acting and sound. Give examples of how the character is constructed using a range of techniques, including camera techniques, acting, mise en scene, editing, lighting and sound.

Here is an example of how you might write one of these paragraphs:

e.g. In the film Ruby Sparks, the title character is literally dreamed up by a frustrated writer. In the film, she is constructed as a quirky and ethereal character using a combination of acting, lighting, editing and sound. As Calvin (Paul Dano) falls asleep, the audience hears a voice saying, “She’s so cute.” Director Jonathan Dayton cuts to the first shot of Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan). At this moment a combination of lighting and sound are used to establish this character. The key light in this shot comes from the sun which is positioned behind Ruby, casting her in warm yellow light that makes her appear angelic. In the background, a romantic choral motif by composer Nick Urata helps to create the impression that this character is angelic and, indeed, a dream girl. As the conversation continues, dialogue helps to establish Ruby as a quirky and carefree character as she suggests his dog peed “like a girl”. She reveals that she’s an artist who’s “super good” and produces a “beautiful” sketch of Calvin’s dog. In a session with his psychologist, Calvin admits that he goes to sleep at night just to get back to his typewriter “so he can be with her”. Like many Manic Pixie Dream Girls, this character is represented as a muse who inspires the male protagonist. Later in this scene, Dayton uses a montage accompanied by voice over from Calvin’s character to further establish this character: “Ruby’s first crushes were Humphrey Bogart and John Lennon. She cried the day she found out they were already dead.” The opening of this montage is accompanied by shots of Ruby rollerskating in a park. Throughout this scene, director Jonathan Dayton uses a combination of acting, lighting, editing and sound to establish the character of Ruby Sparks.

Your conclusion should briefly sum up your discussion and engage with some of the reasons why this stereotype might be negative.

Further Reading

The problem with Manic Pixie dream girls