The quirky female archetype that just keeps going.

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Dream girls are a fixture in modern society, most memorably beginning with the beloved Marilyn Monroe. She is projected onto the collective consciousness as what compiles the perfect female and is admired by both men and woman; as a sex symbol for men and a sort of exemplary for woman. However, this female archetype cannot just be hot, she has to be relatable and believable, like someone you may have already met. She has faults and problems, making her as interesting and complex as her male counterpart. And what seems to make societies dream girls of the last ten years stands out, is how they are presented as wildly original by being the clumsy, quirky and rebellious female.

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By the early 2000’s the idealized female had morphed into a decidedly cutesy form, straight out of the coffee shop, termed by many as the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Film critic Nathan Rabin coined the term to describe Kirsten Dunst’s character in Elizabethtown. He described the MPDG as “that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that 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.” Some have argued that this goofy and carefree female archetype can also be seen in roles such as Natalie Portman in Garden State, Audrey Tautou in Amélie and Jennifer Aniston in Along Came Polly.

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However, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is best embodied by the MPDG to rule them all, the adorkable Zooey Deschanel, in both her role in 500 Days of Summer and just her real-life persona. She can likely be found wearing a childlike dress or a butt-skimming romper, ballet flats and full head of bangs. In some ways, this female archetype is a retrograded 1950’s housewife with a love for baking and cats but, at the same time, she has an edgier side that likes to listen to The Smiths. She is quirky and weird and is there to free the serious male with her carefree and girlish approach to life. As writer Michelle Orange describes her, “Like a girly mini-me, she follows in the proverbial hipster dude’s shadow, filing his ear with life-coaching tips or just adorable chatter, skipping behind him on the path to mutually assured regression.” This MPDG archetype was the darling of the indie circuit during the early 2000’s, she has now firmly found her place among the imaginations of girls hoping to pick up the artsy musician at the bar.

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Rather than developing a meaningful response to this one-dimensional female role, the MPDG has persisted. Young females internalized the awkward girl tendencies of the MPDG and began breeding her in different forms. It could be argued that slightly darker, more depressed versions showed up in characters such as actress Kirsten Stewart. These girls carry all the rebellious awkwardness of the MPDG as they dismiss the cameras, liberating themselves from the rules with all the frustrated girlish mannerisms in tow.

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The MPDG, “misfit girl with problems” formula has lasted longer than anyone could have expected and triumphantly reappeared with the arrival of the sassy, say-it-like-it-is actress Jennifer Lawrence. America’s most recent BFF, Lawrence is the newest incarnation of the liberated rebellious girl in her breakthrough role in Silver Linings Playbook (Lawrence’s role in Silver Linings Playbook was originally written for Zooey Deschanel)

In many ways Lawrence has broken away from the formulaic MPDG of the past, being both stronger and more independent than her predecessors. In her off the screen role, she rebels against the media, preferring to talk about french fries, butt plugs and how acting is stupid over what dress she is wearing. At the same time, her so-called “realness” and quirky persona could be viewed as just the newest personification of the MPDG. She has over-utilized both the rebellious girl act and spastic card from the MPDG playbook as part of her persona, often stretching it to a point of exhaustion that feels pre-canned (she has fallen at the Oscars twice now.)

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What is so difficult about the MPDG is that she is the cliché females have been fighting their whole lives. Debating in their minds whether it is necessary to wear a costume of charming quirks or tics in order to attract the right guy. When these idealized dream girls have only one act – overly cutesy, clumsy or rebellious – it creates a whole daisy chain of mimicking young girls trying to recreate the appeal. Rather than reducing female identity down to an one-dimensional shtick removed of all complexity, perhaps the next female archetype could be a bit more nuanced and less formulaic.

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