The term “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” was coined by film critic Nathan Rabin in a review of the film Elizabethtown in regards to the female lead played by Kirsten Dunst (note that he’s since disowned the term as he felt, correctly, it was being misused).
“The Manic Pixie Dream Girl 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.”
So that’s where we begin.
Written and directed by Cameron Crowe
Starring Orlando Bloom, Kirsten Dunst, Susan Sarandon, Alec Baldwin, Paul Schneider
This movie is ridiculous.
The protagonist, Drew, is a sneaker designer because that is totally relatable to lots of people. He has designed the Most Amazing Shoe that is also the Most Amazing Failure. It would revolutionize the sneaker universe (which is totally a thing) if only anyone understood where he was coming from. Poor Drew. The company banked on his brilliance and lost big so they are going to make him the scapegoat. He is fired and will be thrown to the wolves in the media on Monday. His girlfriend leaves him because she is shallow and only in it for the SHOES. Slash acclaim that the shoes would have should have brought.
Drew has one weekend before the world learns that he is not a visionary so he decides to kill himself. Via exercise bike which I really cannot explain. But he is interrupted by a phone call from his mother and sister with the news that his father has died and he needs to go to Elizabethtown, KY and represent his dysfunctional family at the weekend long lead up to the funeral.
Also important: everyone in this film is functionally dysfunctional. Or the other way around.
Drew takes a midnight flight to Kentucky and the plane is empty so the flight attendant, Claire, chats him up because she is bored and he is hot. They connect. Sorta. When they land she leaves him with a map and driving directions to Etown — and her phone number just in case he gets lost. Nudge nudge.
Drew gets into town where everyone knows of him (though they all mistakenly believe he’s from California) and is proud of his Amazing Shoe. There are signs in the window and press and whatnot. Thus he is, somehow, even more emo by the time he gets to the homestead and meets his many and sundry relatives who are all variations of crazy (and one is Paula Deen, yikes).
He connects (sorta) to one cousin in particular, Jessie, who is Drew’s peer but never grew up. Jessie has a kid but is no good at being a dad. He’s not good at anything except being in a rocking band and that’s not a useful skill unless you are actually in a (successful) rocking band, and he knows his dad is disappointed. Basically Jessie is just as emo because no one believes in him as Drew is emo because everyone believes in him. Synergy!
At the hotel that night Drew can’t sleep, his shoe obsessed ex-girlfriend won’t pick up, and his sister and mother are impossible because they only care about how he is representing the family to the family – or maybe their own grief, it’s not completely clear – so he calls Claire. They talk all night long about anything and everything, or at least that’s what I presume from the montage, and end up meeting face to face at sunrise which OF COURSE steals all the magic. But it’s okay because we all know they are Meant To Be. Eventually they have sex and he admits he’s a Huge Shoe Failure and Claire laughs at him because REALLY, and they kiss and they decide not to date, and she makes him a mix tape and a map for his own Road Trip of Joy. Not all at once and possibly not in that order.
Meanwhile, there is a wedding weekend going on at the hotel Drew is staying at and he and Claire crash and befriend the bride and groom and end up in the wedding party because that happens.
And at the funeral reception, which also takes place at that same hotel, Drew’s mother, Hollie, does a stand up routine as a eulogy and it also features tap dancing.
And then Jessie’s rocking band reunites to play “Freebird” and they start a fire so the ballroom has to be evacuated. At which point Claire gets to use her flight attendant skills to help people exit the room.
The film ends with Drew’s Claire-designed Road Trip of Joy. Or to Joy. Or to Claire, which may be the same thing. Probably. And then they kiss.
This movie is ridiculous! As the eponymous MPDG Claire hits all the buttons: she’s quirky, talks too much, can’t sit still, doesn’t fit in, is a girl not a woman, drives the plot but has no story of her own. But then NONE of the characters have depth, none of them are anything more than plot points or caricature or caricature OF plot points.
In another universe the film might be considered a brilliant commentary on the absurdities of expectations in modern society. I think that’s what it was going for. The people who are miserable are focused on what they imagined their life would be like — Drew’s Amazing Shoe Success, Jessie’s Rock Star Life, there’s a whole subplot about dressing the dead father in The Right Suit — while the people who are not miserable are focused on what their life could be like — Claire’s Abundant Optimism, Hollie’s Bizarre Funeral Presentation of New Things She’s Learning Since Being a Widow, the random wedding — and in the end they all move toward the second option. If nothing else the air is better over there.
Claire doesn’t have a plot but she does have a point, and it is in turn the point of the whole film: life is ridiculous, don’t get too caught up in it. That’s not so horrible a message.