This article was last updated on April 16, 2022
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In 2007, A.V. Club writer Nathan Rabin noticed a specific type of female character that was appearing in films, one he dubbed “the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.” The examples included Kirsten Dunst’s character inElizabethtown and Natalie Portman in Garden State, as well as other flighty, whimsical women who help loosen up the (mostly male) protagonist.
But the MPDG has become, and persisted, as a problem, which Jezebel astutely critiques: “It was such a satisfying term because it encapsulated exactly what was so annoying about those characters — that they were not super well-written or real enough, but some kind of figment of the imagination of a grown man in need of a pick-me-up of quirky youth injections into his limp excuse for a life. But the problem is that the term started getting applied to every kind of female character who was even remotely unique.” Today, the MPDG, it turns out, isn’t much of a character at all‚ which may be why women have so much trouble seeing them as three-dimensional entities.
So, in 2013, we say: Let’s ditch the Manic Pixie. Instead, let’s focus on the new archetypes of leading ladies of which we’re starting to see. They are nuanced, complex, imperfect — and relatable. They have all the off-beat charm of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but when the guy characters are off-screen, they still exist without the male gaze . And they are a force to be reckoned with in and of themselves. So, how many of them are you?
The Brilliant Underachiever
Seen: Bemoaning her difficulty in finding satisfactory creative outlets to make money, making snarky and self-aware jokes, working at a job she hates, possibly wearing jumpers, doling out biting witticisms.
Rooted in: Thora Birch in Ghost World
Examples: Hannah Horvath, Emma Roberts inAdult World, Maeby Fünke
Photo: Everett Collection/Rex USA, HBO, Netflix, Treehouse Productions
The Invincible, Uncontrollable Badass
Seen: Bucking authority, having all the tricks up her sleeve, saving everyone at the last minute, obviously unaware that she desperately needs some sort of support network or sense of community.
Rooted in: Many, many roles of Angelina Jolie
Examples: Lisbeth Salander in The Millennium Trilogy, Hunger Games‘ Katniss, Merida fromBrave, Amy Adams in The Fighter, Saoirse Ronan in Hanna
Photo: Moviestore Collection/RexUSA, Disney/Pixar, Music Box Films, Lionsgate
The Not-So Grown-Up
Seen: Wearing sensible shoes, trying to convince herself she is on the right “career track,” paying her bills on time but losing her keys, putting romance last, calling mom or dad for a cathartic breakdown.
Rooted in: Molly Ringwald characters
Examples: Marnie in Girls, Anna Kendrick in Up In The Air, Kerry Washington in Scandal, Anna Chlumsky in VEEP
Photo: Everett Collection/Rex USA, HBO, HBO, Everett/Rex USA
The Super-Cool Hot Mess
Seen: Skipping school/work/various nanny jobs, popping Adderall, alluding to a sordid past, applying eyeliner, disappearing for days at a time.
Rooted in: Drew Barrymore’s wild-child era
Examples: Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook, Emma Watson in Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Spring Breakers, Zoe Kazan in Ruby Sparks
Photo: BEImages, ID-PR, Weinstein Company, Summit Pictures
The Self-Aware Geekstress Who Doesn’t Need Anyone
Seen: Making jokes about herself before you do, unafraid of her own Star Trek/Battlestar/LOTRreferences, not needing any sort of social cliques because “she’s above it” (yet secretly hurt by not being a part of said social cliques,) being hilarious.
Rooted in: Annie Hall
Examples: Ashley Rickards in Awkward, Emma Stone in Easy A, Emma Stone in Zombieland, Liz Lemon, the public persona of Mindy Kaling
Photo: Everett Collection/Rex USA, Fox, Sony Pictures, MTV
The Worldly, Unapologetic Sexual Liberator
Seen: Using lots of swear words, smoking, telling the hero/ine to suck it up, having sex with people she doesn’t know well but owning it, being mysterious, eating/living well and encouraging others to do the same, delivering memorable one-liners
Rooted in: Holly Golightly
Examples: Jessa in Girls, Mila Kunis in Black Swan, Krysten Ritter in Don’t Trust the B—- In Apartment 23, Keira Knightley in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
Photo: Everett Collection/Rex USA, ABC, HBO, Moviestore Collection/Rex/RexUSA
Designed by Isabelle Rancier
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