But the more the cultural myth of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl expanded, the more my ambivalence about it grew.“Manicpixiedreamgirl” became the title of a young adult novel about a teenage boy obsessed with a free-spirited female classmate, something I only learned about when a reader directed me to the book’s Amazon page.John Green, for one, felt so passionately about the toxic nature of the trope that in a Tumblr post he declared that his novel "Paper Towns" “is devoted IN ITS ENTIRETY to destroying the lie of the manic pixie dream girl” before adding, “I do not know how I could have been less ambiguous about this without calling (Paper Towns) The Patriarchal Lie of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl Must Be Stabbed in the Heart and Killed.” In an interview with Vulture, “Ruby Sparks” writer-star Zoe Kazan answered a question about whether her character was a Manic Pixie Dream Girl by asserting: “I think it's basically misogynist.” In a later interview, when once again confronted with the dreaded MPDG label, Kazan continued, “I don’t like that term …I think it’s turned into this unstoppable monster where people use it to describe things that don’t really fall under that rubric.” Here’s the thing: I completely agree with Kazan.It's an archetype, I realized, that taps into a particular male fantasy: of being saved from depression and ennui by a fantasy woman who sweeps in like a glittery breeze to save you from yourself, then disappears once her work is done.When I hit “publish” on that piece, the first entry in a column I called "My Year of Flops," I was pretty proud of myself.The response to my review was pretty positive but relatively sleepy. The list, published in 2008, was titled “16 films featuring Manic Pixie Dream Girls,” and featured, along with Dunst and Portman, Diane Keaton in “Annie Hall” and Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” I remember thinking, even back then, that a whole list of Manic Pixie Dream Girls might be stretching the conceit too far.
At first it was just a few scattered mentions in other critics' reviews.The author did not choose the book’s title, I learned in my one exchange with him over Facebook; it was his publisher’s idea. Critics began coining spinoff tropes like the “manic pixie dream guy." Mindy Kaling name-dropped Manic Pixie Dream Girls in a New Yorker piece on female-centric films.And last year I had the surreal experience of watching a musical called Manic Pixie Dreamland, about a fantasy realm that produces Manic Pixie Dream Girls.At the film site the Dissolve, where I am a staff writer, my editor has gently discouraged me from using the phrase "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" in my writing, less because using a phrase I coined reeks of self-congratulation, but because in 2014 calling a character a Manic Pixie Dream Girl is nearly as much of a cliché as the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope.And I don’t need much discouraging, even when writing about a fairly clear-cut instance of a Manic Pixie, like Charlize Theron’s impossibly perfect, sexy, supportive gun-slinger in “A Million Ways to Die in the West.” As is often the case in conversations about gender, or race, or class, or sexuality, things get cloudy and murky really quickly.And if you are a critic, labels and names and definitions are a necessary evil.