Who is Nathan Rabin? The originator of the term Manic Pixie Dream Girl. What's a MPDG, you say? According to Rabin, she's a character in a movie who "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."
Image of Ms. Dunst found here.
Rabin invented the term a decade ago in a now-famous essay about the movie "Elizabethtown" and its quirkmuffin character, Claire Colburn, played by Kirsten Dunst.
My sense was that MPDGs might actually exist in reality, but not in a pure way.
However, I have now seen "Elizabethtown," and I want to apologize to Mr. Rabin.
Yes, this character comes from Cameron Crowe's fevered imagination, and there is no woman in reality who is like this.
Warning: from here on down, spoilers abound.
The premise of "Elizabethtown" is this: workaholic athletic shoe designer Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom, strangely passive and boring) has just cost his shoe corporation almost a billion dollars because of a mistake he made designing a new shoe. He is on the verge of committing suicide when he receives a phone call from his distraught sister Heather (Judy Greer-- I LOVED her character) saying that their father has died in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, the father's hometown. Drew puts off his suicide long enough to put his father's affairs in order.
Cue spiritual journey of man who needs to "embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures."
Cue MPDG who will help him do just that.
Claire (Dunst) is a flight attendant on Drew's redeye from Oregon to Kentucky. Miraculously, there isn't a single other passenger on the flight (and it's a big plane!). Claire invites Drew to move up to first class and then proceeds to engage him in bubbly, charming conversation for most of the flight.
Claire is young, blonde, sexy, funny, sweet, happy, and helpful, in addition to being bubbly and charming. And she is determined to cheer up Drew, who for some reason doesn't want to disclose to her that he's on his way to bury his father.
You see, he's locked up tight emotionally, and he needs to be cracked by a MPDG emotional safe-cracker.
She gives the impression that she herself has no life, aspirations, problems, history, or psychological baggage. She one hundred percent dedicates herself to engaging the baleful, closed-off Drew.
Now I've come across women similar to this, but if I have more than one conversation with them, it quickly comes out that they do have a life, aspirations, and the rest of it.
But with Claire, what you see is what you get. She is so into Drew that for the rest of the movie, he's her everything, to the point where her flight attendant job and her boyfriend (who turns out to be fake), really the only things we know about her, go completely and totally out the window. All we really see of Claire is a light Southern accent suggesting a Kentucky upbringing and a breezy, be-real-and-enjoy-yourself philosophy.
I kept thinking, when is Claire's Borderline Personality Disorder going to blindside Drew with some colossal cruelty (see "Something Wild" for Melanie Griffith as the pseudo-MPDG with an actual scary life that really messes with Jeff Daniels, the closed-off gentleman in that movie).
But no, she is actually really truly true blue sweet and good, and the only time when she isn't smiling is when Drew, for some unfathomable reason, decides that he should break up with the best thing that has ever come into his life. That's the only time she shows any depth or spine, when she tells him he's a blooming (pun intended) idiot for not just saying I Love You and living happily ever after, and stalks off to her car and drives away, making Drew realize just what he has lost.
But wait, there's more!
Claire doesn't give Drew the chance to run after her and say he's sorry. No, no. The next time she sees him, she gives him the crowning glory, the most impossible thing of all impossible things: a custom-created map-itinerary-travel-guide-and-music-commentary for his car ride back to Oregon, a journey she has persuaded him to take, because she is a MPDG, he needs to embrace life, and she is going to rescue him no matter what it takes.
This travel guide is so incredibly detailed, well thought out, and beautifully decorated that it should have taken her days to create it, but hey, she got it done, supposedly in the time she stalked off and then met him again (12 hours? who knows?).
Cue montage of Orlando Bloom following itinerary and embracing life. Yes, her itinerary finally makes him weep and dance.
And at the end of it, there she is, having traveled on ahead of him to meet him after setting up a scavenger hunt at "the world's second largest farmer's market." Like MPDGs, such a place doesn't exist in the real world.
But when did Hollywood ever worry about reality?
So Nathan Rabin, apologize no more. Your original instinct was absolutely pure. That others took it and messed with it is not your fault.
Fevered imagination, indeed.