Yes, it has its own acronym
I am about to watch Almost Famous with a friends when we get to talking about Zooey Deschannel. This leads us to New Girl, the TV show where Deschannel is quirky and in our opinions annoying. My friend then mentions the idea of the manic pixie dream girl (MPDG) and says that Penny Lane (played by Kate Hudson) fits this perfectly as does Deschannel.
My question is not does this character exist, which obviously it does (see Sam in Garden State), but why and how does any one character fit into it. We read the Wikipedia entry which says, “Film critic Nathan Rabin, who coined the term after seeing Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown (2005), describes 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’ … MPDGs are usually static characters who have eccentric personality quirks and are unabashedly girlish. They invariably serve as the romantic interest for a (often brooding or depressed) male protagonist.”
You are home
I don’t think that Penny Lane from Almost Famous fits this description, in part because she is not that manic, in part because she is not in love with William (although he is in love with her) and mostly because she is not static. Penny Lane grows and changes throughout Almost Famous and is more than a plot device to move William along into a new world. Covering Stillwater is enough to accomplish this on its own.
Penny Lane has a life and a plot of her own. She is part of a lifestyle and social group she loves but that is wearing on her and that she wants to escape. She is in love with a man who is not in love with her. She must face and deal with all of these things and changes over the course of the film.
This is not to say that in some ways she is not a pixie. There is the scene where she dances in the empty stadium, but she is a groupie… I mean bandaid after all.
Her and William have a relationship and are drawn to each other. When she tells him, “You are home,” you can almost see it but it is more complicated than that. The problem is characters are usually more complicated than that. I can’t allow myself to write off everything else that is going on.
This brings me to the question of why. In a way I think every girl wishes to be a MPDG. Who doesn’t want to be Sam in Garden State who is quirky but fun. We all have eccentric personality quirks and this allows us to embrace them instead of brush them off. Then there is the fact that everybody secretly longs to find a MPDG or a male equivalent (a manic pixie dream boy) of their own. Someone they get along with, identify with and who will solve all their problems. Who will inspire them and show them the way. This is the idealized world of story telling. Fiction is better than real life. Things don’t go left unsaid and sometimes characters find their wonderwall who can save them. Unfortunately this is not real life. William can’t save Penny Lane and Penny Lane can’t save William. This is not about just helping someone find a way to be happy and see the wonder in life. This is something we have to do for ourselves — a shortcut can be found through watching lots and lots of inspiring TED talks.
This is a nice story, an escape. We create it for a reason and in our own way long to find that person. But here William and Penny are on their own. No miracle is forthcoming. Just a life changing experience for William and a new path for Penny.