There’s a character trope particularly in Romantic Comedies of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
This term was birthed by film critic Nathan Rabin who while reviewing Elizabethtown described them as existing “solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach brooding my soulful young men to embrace life and it’s infinite mysteries and adventures”.
I believe there are films that meet this qualification but I believe some films are misidentified as perpetuating the trope.
In my opinion 500 Days of Summer and Ruby Sparks knowingly takes this archetype and turns it on its head.
Written by and starring Zoe Kazan Ruby Sparks is about Calvin, a writer struggling to create his next project after his breakout as a teenager.
Then a woman comes into his life that disrupts his routine and throws him into an emotional whirlwind.
This sounds like a typical MPDG right?
Well not exactly.
The dialogue is brilliant because I feel this film holds up a mirror to this trope.
Hollywood has projects with these characters with vague backstory and little to no motivations of their own beside to quirkily get the male protagonist out of his shell but this is perceived flaw furthers the story.
Ruby is a creation of the writer’s mind so it’s a literal representation of what takes place so when she moves from a stereotype and begins reacting like an actual person the writer becomes threatened.
Brilliantly he is disgruntled with fans who only see through their assumptions but that’s how he acts with Ruby.
“They’re not interested in me, they’re interested in the idea of me”
When she expresses she wants to branch out and become social he bristles with the idea.
Then becomes controlling when she confronts his attitude
“I’m sorry I wasn’t acting like the platonic ideal of your girlfriend”.
This movie reveals slowly how Calvin isn’t self aware and actually wasn’t a good person first with his ex girlfriend
“You just had this image of who I was and anything that I did that contradicted it, you just ignored it” then with Ruby
“You don’t want me doing anything. You have these rules…I’m not your child, you don’t get to decide what I do.”
She becomes a character, she has her own personality and her own ideas so I believe this shows how it’s not the same as the trope.
500 Days of Summer is also, in my opinion, misidentified as a MPDG film.
At least in the sense of Summer being a prototypical character.
What’s refreshing about this film is it is framed with Tom being the protagonist.
Similar to Ruby Sparks the actions of the female love interest is revealed through his perspective.
The thing about Summer is she is very upfront.
She’s not looking to change his life.
Their conversation about the differing opinions on love doesn’t lead her to change his perspective.
Actually he’s the romantic who was affected by the movies and love songs.
She was the one who didn’t want a relationship.
The writers were very intentional in not making her a bad person but since Tom longs for commitment their bond wavers as he tries to force his way of thinking onto their unique friendship.
This is why I feel there needs to be separate distinction with the MPDG trope.
I feel in film there are two categories with Manic Pixie Dream Girls, those who fit the trope and those who turn it on its head.
Though often lumped in with works like Elizabethtown and Garden State I believe that 500 Days of Summer is actually the later.
Summer is a reflection of Tom’s thoughts and with Ruby Sparks the protagonist is literally a writer creating the one he loves.
Throughout the entire film there are quotes that show the way he views women and even his experiences are faulty.
There’s a scene where Calvin’s brother speaks to him about his partner and that even though it’s tough she’s an actualized person.
Similarly in 500 Days Tom’s friend describes how his “perfect” woman doesn’t even add up to who he’s with right now because she’s real.