Below is the original post I had in mind when first going to see indie movie Ruby Sparks, written by and staring who I perceived to be the token Manic Pixie Dream Girl of the moment, Zoe Kazan.
Two screenings later and Ruby Sparks is anything but the cliché Garden State/Elizabethtown/(500) Days of Summer flick I thought it was going to be. In fact, I was so inspired by the movie that there will be several articles about it appearing on this here blog over the next week or two, dealing with its take on abusive relationships, the psychology of its protagonist, Calvin, and the inspiration the film draws from Catcher in the Rye. But first, let’s examine Ruby Sparks as the anti-MPDG.
I know this girl who wears quirky owl-print dresses and is into obscure strains of literature. She’s not a friend per se, and her tendency to cry at the drop of a hat rubs me the wrong way, but I don’t not like her. More to the point, her existence puzzles me.
I have a few male acquaintances who worship the ground she walks on, and who RSVP to her Facebook invites to attend human rights marches and to go bushwalking when they’ve never spent a day in nature or in non-white, non-straight male shoes in their lives. To them, I think she embodies their idea of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, a feminist film phenomenon I’m sure they’ve never heard of but that has been dominating the indie movie scene (read: anything Zooey Deschanel’s been in) for the past few years.
I don’t know this girl too well, but I don’t think she herself is a MPDG. Her hard-for-other-women-to-get-to-know façade and seemingly archetypal attributes make her the perfect canvas for twenty-something men struggling to find themselves to project their hopes and desires onto (despite the small fact that she has a boyfriend!), much like Calvin does to the titular character in the movie Ruby Sparks. The difference is, though, that Calvin literally created Ruby to be his perfect girlfriend via his pretentious typewriter.
Ruby is one of those annoying, “quirky” (though don’t let writer-star Zoe Kazan hear you say that; she told The Huffington Post that she hates that word. “[Quirky] means nothing,” Kazan said.), sunshiney girls who floats around in an artistic (she’s an illustrator, of course, and “super good” at it), hipster-esque existence. She may be a “motherfucking product of my imagination”, marvels Calvin, but she’s from Dayton, Ohio, because the location “sounds romantic”. She got kicked out of school for sleeping with her “art or Spanish teacher”. Ruby doesn’t own a computer or drive, and she’s “complicated” because she “forgets to open bills”. She’s “such a mess”, but not to worry: Calvin loves her mess. Ever the voice of reason, Calvin’s brother, Harry deposes that “quirky messy women whose problems only make them more endearing are not real.” The MPDG fetishisation of incapability is something I’ll never understand: isn’t the hallmark of being a together, grown-up person and, indeed, partner, to be able to take care of yourself and, at the very least, pay your bills? Maybe I should ask my abovementioned man boy friends to enlighten me on the allure…
What Ruby isn’t in her original form is a whole person. She’s just an extension of Calvin’s indie man-child persona: the ultimate MPDG who breaks with tradition to make the observation that “we’re the same person”. Again, Harry enlightens Calvin with his words of wisdom: “You haven’t written a person; you’ve written a girl.”
As Calvin stops writing Ruby she evolves into an individual, with desires and feelings that don’t always conform to Calvin’s “platonic ideal of Your Girlfriend”. A film that from the Kaiser Chiefs-infused trailer could be presumed to be about the MPDG du jour evolves into somewhat of a critique of the restrictions of the Pygmalion myth, even though that might not be what Kazan set out to do. On the trope:
“I just think the [MPDG] term really means nothing; it’s just a way of reducing people’s individuality down to a type, and I think that’s always a bad thing. And I think that’s part of what the movie is about, how dangerous it is to reduce a person down to an idea of a person.”
In a signature Ruby Sparks meta moment of self-awareness, Calvin expresses to his therapist that girls only want to date the author of his one-hit-wonder novel they read in high school, not him. “They’re not interested in me. They’re interested in some idea of me.” Hmm, sounds familiar doesn’t it, Calvin?
Perhaps my mates who trail along after their dream girl like a puppy dog as she attends pottery class and dates with her boyfriend could take a page out of Kazan’s book as opposed to Calvin’s…
Elsewhere: [HuffPo] Zoe Kazan, Ruby Sparks Writer & Star: “Quirky” Means Nothing.
[Vulture] Zoe Kazan Does Not Write Manic Pixie Dream Girls.
*Blanket spoiler alert.
Image via Enthunder.