The phrase “manic pixie dream girl” came to be in Nathan Rabin’s review for Elizabethtown. He was describing the female lead Claire, played by Kirsten Dunst. He coined the term to define female characters that “exist solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” Since then, all of those writers have given birth to an army of dream girls: Sam from Garden State, Clementine from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and most of Zooey Deschanel’s repertoire. We have watched them be their authentic selves and still be able not only to win the boy but save him from his depressing and humdrum life. That being said, if we actually take the time to look through the one-dimensional characters’ blue hair and vintage record collection, you can see the mental illnesses Hollywood has painted its romanticized veneer over.
All audiences have fallen in love with these dream girls. They are quirky, but not too quirky where they become unattractively awkward. Their fascination for making life matter and finding the beauty and excitement in every little thing drags our dreary male protagonist into the light. They teach the young man to live again though petty crime like shoplifting in Breakfast at Tiffany’s or underage smoking and drinking in Looking for Alaska. With quotes about belonging to nobody and feeling unique in the world, how can anyone not fall in love with these girls and even see a bit of ourselves in them?
What usually goes unnoticed, however, is the mental illness seeded within. Their title includes the word manic, a major symptom of mental illnesses like bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder. The term’s creator even uses “psychotically chipper waitress in the sky”. Upon further investigation into manic pixie dream girls, all of their quirks and habits morph into symptoms of a mental illness. The petty theft at the corner store becomes impulsive tendencies, and their ukuleles and knitting reveal themselves as self-care methods. Then when the boy begins to learn his dream might have a few cracks in it, and those flights of fancy that took you both on spontaneous outings turn out to be a relationship-sparked spin into a manic episode. However, still entranced by her symptoms, he believes his life is for the better with her in it.
As someone with bipolar disorder, I find myself with similar qualities as the MPDG with the odd hobbies and frantic impulses I can’t control, and I usually do find myself falling into relationships with men who are depressed and stuck in some sort of rut. Up until recently, I unknowingly have guided six boys out of whatever phase they were in and became their muse. To follow the trope’s storyline, at the first sign of trouble on my end, and my façade broke right before their eyes. They went running for the hills. I am not some manic pixie dream girl trope and neither are anyone else’s girlfriends for that matter. Take a note from Clementine in Eternal Sunshine. We’re just screwed up girls looking for our own peace of mind. Don't assign us yours.