To my fellow Americans (and Paul Dano): This is a public service announcement. There’s an epidemic out there, to which I can no longer turn a blind eye. Forget bird flu—I’m sure that’ll turn out fine. I’m here to talk about the plague of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. What began as a twinkle in Diane Keaton’s eye has grown to a virulent strain of quirkiness that has run rampant through our theaters, starting on screen and now spilling into the audience. We’ve yet to determine when the crossover happened, but all those born after the advent of Cameron Crowe are susceptible, with the post-Deschanel generation at particularly high risk.
Thanks to early research pioneers, we now have professional facilities that specialize in the care and upkeep of an MPDG. But as with any contagion, the best defense is prevention. Take a look: do you recognize any of the below symptoms in yourself or your loved ones? Has your girlfriend recently bought a pair of non-prescription glasses? Is your mom really into The Smiths? Does your grandfather dance like nobody’s watching?
If you see something, say something.
Patient Zero. Some cite Katherine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby as the first MPDG, but she didn’t use black soap or drive a Beetle. There’s a difference between Dizzy Well-Moneyed Heiress and Tie-Wearing Lobster Photographer. You have to be a little wonky to date Woody Allen, so imagine the level of wonk necessary to be his muse. We should have just let Keaton be the beginning and end of this phenomenon, but we didn’t. We didn’t.
Once considered a “female problem,” the MPDG bug has now infiltrated the male population, along with the skinny jean. In fact, my research has yielded evidence of the manic pixie dream dude as early as 1997. For those of you who haven’t recently purchased this for $3.99 at the discount DVD shop by the J train on a particularly mopey Sunday, I’ll refresh your memory. After the tragic death of his wife and child, Christian Slater eschews his life as a soulless i-banker. Instead of, say, going to therapy, he gets high off other people’s happiness by delivering flowers and attending story-time at the children’s library. And also trolling the streets at night to stare at strangers through their windows. The mutation of the virus across genders has yielded a decidedly creepy strain.
These two are both classic cases. Hawke, Delpy, Vienna—it’s a perfect storm of preciousness. After jumping off a train 15 seconds after meeting, the couple spends one fateful, starlit night trying to out-adorable each other. We’re talking ferris wheels, spontaneous poetry, finding the last record booth in the western world in which to listen to 70s folk music and side-eye each other. Also the inevitably tender boot-knocking scene takes place in a historic graveyard. After a discussion of Quakerism. Honestly, it’s too much to catalogue here but this is essentially the DSM-IV of the MPDG virus.
Zooey Deschanel. Is there anyone more culpable for the spread of this contagion? With her marble-round eyes, jazz-baby voice, and that ukulele she’s biologically bound to? You may expect me to cite 500 Days of Summer, but that’s just her latest outbreak. Look back to 2003 and you’ll see that she was infected long ago. Here’s she’s roaming empty bowling alleys and reinventing the hug, making macaroni and being a virgin. She’s saying things like, “Last night I had a dream that you grew a garden on the trampoline!” Hers is a truly acute case. With early intervention, we might have mitigated the problem, but honestly she was a goner the second her parents decided to spell it Zooey.
I don’t really want to give this film any more time or attention, since it already devoured the better part of my college years. But you can’t talk about this issue without addressing this particular manic pixie. No, I’m not talking about Natalie Portman—I mean the film as a whole. This entire movie is a rain-dancing, Nico-loving, record-owning, weird-laugh-having crush object. Watch this live-action Instagram in a vulnerable state, and you will end up sobbing into your cat. But seen through the eyes of a remotely stable adult, the film can’t be endured for twenty minutes without sustaining significant vision damage from the constant, involuntary eye-rolling.
Send me your problems and I’ll make it all better-ish!
My mom is coming to visit, and I have no idea what to do with her all weekend. I don’t really like her. Thoughts?
Ah yes, the tricky task of mom-tolerance. Sure, she gave you life, but that was like forever ago. All I can say is hunker down, sister. And remember, it could be worse. It could be wire-hangers worse.