Monday, August 22, 2011

Why I hate Quirky Girls

It came up recently that I really don't like (500) Days of Summer and I'm not terribly keen on Garden State either. There's a common trope in both of those, and that element is a major contributing factor in my dislike - the Quirky Indie Pixie Girl. This is the type of girl that doesn't exist except in the minds of screenwriters - and a guarantee you that if they DID exist, you'd be less charmed by them than utterly annoyed by them.

Not sure of what I'm talking about. This short from Funny or Die should connect a few dots. (Fun fact: This features spoofs of not only the moment when I realized (500) Days was going to be a shitty, shitty film, but also the first time Natalie Portman was on film and my thoughts weren't "Wow, she's beautiful," but "I want this character to get off my screen RIGHT NOW!")

Somehow, this girl is the trope of choice for most of the wannabe hipsters who write these sorts of films. I imagine the thought process is something like "Ohmigod! A cute girl who isn't so hot that she's intimidating and is totally into the kinds of music and obscure movies that I like! That's what I want!"

Lonely and geeky "artists" of the world, you probably stand the better chance of finding a female gamer and comic book collector with the body of a lingerie model than you do of finding someone like the Quirky Indie Pixie Girl.

If you have this trope in your script, kill it. They're barely tolerable when performed by Natalie Portman. When they're nothing but text on a page, they're even more contrived and annoying.


  1. Ah, yes - the manic pixie dream girl.

    You know why they are really annoying? Because they aren't real, fully fleshed characters. As fantasy projections, their quirks make them less intimidating but don't actually give them problems to solve. They're static, unchanging.

    This article discusses the issue astutely:,2407/

    "Like the Magical Negro, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype is largely defined by secondary status and lack of an inner life. She's on hand to lift a gloomy male protagonist out of the doldrums, not to pursue her own happiness."

  2. If these girls are only a creation of male "lonely and geeky" screenwriters, what kind of male characters do lonely and geeky female screenwriters create?
    Just a thought.

  3. Roles that tend to go to John Corbett, of course.

  4. As a fan of both of those movies (and hipster romances in general, damn my black and otherwise cynical heart), I do still know where you're coming from with this - they ARE fantasy figures, the kind of adorable geek who matches the writer's own very specific set of influences, likes and interests.

    As somebody with a very specific set of influences, likes and interests I've had way too much experience of trying to make general comments about the things I'm into (y'know, just namedropping a few movies or TV shows as conversation starters rather than launching into a critique of the Picard Manoeuvre) only to have a woman's eyes glaze over and drift away, and catch myself thinking 'Damn, if only Kat Dennings was here...'

    I think in indie rom-coms they work because that's the one place they SHOULD exist - they simply don't fit anywhere else. Trying to add a girl like this into an alien invasion movie or your story about a harrowing night shift at the local trauma centre will just look weird.

    Not that it stopped them levering Kat Dennings into 'Thor', however. And I say this as someone who thinks she's ace.

  5. While I have some problems with 500 DAYS - and Zooey Deschanel in general - I don't think her character was ultimately a MPDG. Yes, she was "quirky," but she was hardly an adjunct to the JGL character, and she sure as hell didn't bring him out of his doldrums - she made it quite clear that she didn't owe him anything just because he put her up on a pedestal.

  6. Oh, and that parody was VERY funny... I believe that was Geoffrey Arend, who played the friend in 500 DAYS, playing the friend - nice touch.

  7. Ha, loved the ax she's carrying in the elevator.

    I have to agree with DeafEars, I don't think Summer was too much of a Manic Pixie Quirky Girl, except for maybe the scene where she kisses him in the copy room. Other than that, she seems more like a lost twenty-something. I think the intro sets her up that way, and I think that's how Tom PERCEIVES her, but I also think part of the story is that she isn't who Tom thinks she is and their relationship isn't what he thinks it is.

    That said, I DO think this character is a stretch -- and most of my favourite movies include a slightly Manic Pixie. But I would DEFINITELY rather watch a movie with a Quirky Girl than a movie with a type A career driven woman who needs to have her life altered by love, aka Katherine Heigl.

  8. Wait a minute, you DIDN'T like 500 Days of Summer???

  9. Question - Would Claudia from SyFy's Warehouse 13 qualify as a quirky girl?

    I never saw either of those movies, but I have seen - oh crud, what's that one about the teenager who gets pregnant and actually makes a mature decision to give her baby up for adoption? Anyway, I didn't really care for it persay because she was too out there in many respects - reminding me of the girls in highschool who would buck the mainstream just to stand out, not because they actually liked what they were doing. Not like me who bucked the mainstream because the mainstream just did not appeal to me and still doesn't. However I often find myself defending that movie to my mom who thinks that it's a movie about a "cheap slut." (No mom, she's not going with a different guy at the end of the movie, that's actually the same guy she got pregnant by.)

  10. This is an odd post.

    On one hand, the Manic Pixie Girl in movies does, most often, fall into the realm of bad cliche and sexist male fantasy projection.

    But the assertion that "these girls just don't exist in real life" is baffling. The real-life, multi-dimensional version of the "manic pixie girls" are all over Echo Park, Silverlake, Highland Park, and Eagle Rock. You can find 50 of them, at least, in Spaceland on a Saturday night.

    There are tons of not-so-hot-to-be-intimidating, interested-in-quirky-things *women*. The problem is that these movies treat them like girls.

  11. I have to agree with Mouse ... not only did I really, really dig those movies (and the females in them) I have to tell you, those types of women do exist in real life (I've dated a couple) and a lot of us dudes like 'em ... they may not be for everyone (and no one type of woman is) but personally, Summer about wrecked me, because I had a Summer in my life ... and it played out very much like that film ...

    So I guess it comes down to personal preference ...

  12. Mouse kinda proves my point by saying, essentially, "well, they exist but in real life they have depth and are very different."

    I'll grant that Zooey's character more closely approximates a human being, but Portman's feels too much like a writer's creation to me. And LORD have I seen a lot of bad Xeroxs of that character in specs over the years.

  13. There are good and bad versions of all types ... though I might argue Portman in Garden State (because I really liked her) I'd say the best example of a bad version of that type of character would be what's-her-name in Scott Pilgrim vs The World ... that's the bad version.

    The great version of that character would be Kate W in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (another female that about wrecked me) ...

  14. Claudia from Warehouse 13 is a lot more layered as a character (especially this season), but at first she was a lot more indicative of a whole other trope - the Adorably Awkward Techie Nerd, as epitomised by Willow in 'Buffy'. That's something I see a lot these days - a cute young ditz of a girl who also happens to be an omega-level hacker.

  15. I totally agree with this. Natalie Portman is one of my favorite actresses but even she couldn't sell me on the character. Also, I've dated a girl similar to the trope and it was awful as well as annoying. As far as their inclusion in screenplays, if they are integrated with a certain degree of calculation they can be effective anchors for comic relief.

  16. Joshua - For whatever reason, I don't lump Ramona Flowers from Scott Pilgrim in with the rest of the Quirky Girls, because unlike most of the other films, SP never pretends that Ramona is perfect and a gift from the gods. She's got the look of the Quirky Girl, but the film doesn't try any of the cliches that are supposed to make us think "Golly, she's perfect AND she's perfect for him." It's not quite a subversion of the trope, but it's gotta be close.

    Good call on Winslet in Eternal Sunshine, though. She hits all the Quirky cliches, but somehow I find her a lot more nuanced, sympathetic, and three-dimensional than most of the other bearers of that trope.

    I'm with Monster Zero. I've only seen Claudia in her Eureka appearance, but she struck me as a Chloe Sullivan ripoff. I like Chloe, but that's largely due to Allison Mack bringing stuff to that character that's not on the page. I'd probably also peg Veronica Mars as the embodiment of that trope. Any other girl hackers? I'd guess that Autumn Reeser's character on Human Target probably counts too.