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Ramona Flowers and 5 Other Manic Pixie Dream Girls Who Aren’t
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RamonaWhen I first picked up Bryan Lee O’Malley‘s Scott Pilgrim series, I fell for it, hard. Here, finally, was a quirky, beautiful love interest who wasn’t just another Manic Pixie Dream Girl — a three-dimensional girl with motivations and an inner life of her own. (It doesn’t sound like that should be too much to ask, but the sad case is that it often is.) I found O’Malley’s take on the archetype to be just about perfect.

Then Edgar Wright‘s film adaptation came out, and it was hilarious, and inventive, and energetic, and sweet, and… and yet another story about a Hapless Hero and a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Although the film remained mostly faithful to the main plot of the source material, it had to cut copious amounts of backstory to fit into the running time. Perhaps no one suffered more than Ramona Flowers, who went from a fascinating, complex woman to a pretty trophy to be won.

What was most disappointing about it is that the downgrade felt unnecessary. Manic Pixie Dream Girls abound, but there’s always an opportunity for them to be more than that. Below, in honor of O’Malley’s original Ramona Flowers, are five other Manic Pixie Dream Girls who aren’t.

Ramona V. Flowers, Scott PilgrimRamona V. Flowers, Scott Pilgrim book series

Ramona’s literally a dream girl — she appears to Scott in a dream before he ever encounters her in real life. When he meets her, she’s just as mysterious and adorable as you could expect, and true to form, her purpose is indeed to force him to grow up. But she’s also packing some serious baggage, and not the empty MPDG type. The apparently shallow conceit of having Scott fight each one of her evil exes reveals itself as a way of explaining Ramona as a person — as someone who’s wronged and been wronged, as someone who gets angry and sad and yes, even bored. Although Ramona initially appears as an enigmatic accessory in a tale that’s ostensibly about Scott, we get to know her as well as we know Scott. As they decide whether to take a chance on each other, they come to understand just how large of an undertaking it is.

Clementine, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless MindClementine, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

From the moment Clementine appears onscreen, her hair tells you exactly what cinematic character box she fits into. Carelessly yet sexily styled, and dyed an entirely unnatural hue, her hair is cinematic shorthand for “impulsive, wild woman who will turn male protagonist’s life upside-down with her complete disregard for rules and norms.” (Also see: Ramona Flowers.) And indeed, she makes the shy, unhappy Joel feel alive with the radiance of her affection and drags him onto frozen lakes to stargaze and whatnot. But Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is about the breakdown of a relationship, not just its formation, and we see how the reality of dating a would-be MPDG isn’t all it’s cracked up to be — in ways both good and bad. Her free-spirited ways chafe against Joel’s more reserved ones, and under the brash exterior she proves herself as vulnerable and insecure as anyone else.

Girl (Marketa Irglova in Once)Girl, Once

This tender, delicate tale has all the markings of a typical MPDG tale — a lost, broken man falls in with a younger, peppier woman who encourages him to be his best self. Somewhere along the way, though, we learn that things aren’t so simple. She’s a poor mother making the best of a rocky marriage with an absentee husband, and he’s still hung up on his ex in a way that even the attentions of a pretty young woman can’t fix. Instead, they develop a warm, productive friendship, as well as an aching sexual attraction. Once closes with each of them better off for having met, but not because she swooped in, MPDG-style, to put aside all her own needs and work on building him up. They’re both better off for having met a kindred spirit who could offer support and to whom they could offer support in return.

Alyssa Jones, Chasing AmyAlyssa Jones, Chasing Amy

And once again, we’re back with a unique, sexy, feisty woman and a brooding man who can’t help but fall in love with her. Like Eternal Sunshine, this story deals with the darker side of loving a wild child — Holden feels threatened with his girlfriend’s crazy past. Before Judd Apatow hit it big, Kevin Smith was the king of overgrown man-children and the improbably attractive women who love them, but Chasing Amy is by far the most nuanced romantic relationship he’s ever portrayed. Alyssa reacts to Holden’s self-centered indecent proposal the way any woman would: by telling him off for treating her like a whore. Approximately 5,000 dorky-guy-meets-hot-girl romcoms later, this is still one of the most mature scenes to be found in any of them.

Trish, The 40-Year-Old VirginTrish, The 40-Year-Old Virgin

Lest you think all of these not-quite-MPDG plotlines are lessons in longing and heartbreak — wooing a sexy, quirky lady is far more difficult than Zach Braff and Woody Allen make it look — The 40-Year-Old Virgin tells a more cheerful tale. Catherine Keener breathes life into what could have been a two-dimensional character. Trish is fun, lively, and laughs at all Andy’s jokes, just like a proper MPDG, but unlike a MPDG, she has a real past, a real job, and a real family. The keyword there is “real” — they’re fleshed out to the extent that Trish and her life seem just as real as Andy and his, even if we see less of it. What makes this rosier take work is that thanks to fine character work on both Trish’s and Andy’s parts, you actually believe Trish would fall in love with Andy just as much as he would fall in love with her. It’s just too bad that Trish marks the last time that Apatow and his acolytes made a female love interest worth caring about.

Daisy Steiner, SpacedDaisy Steiner, Spaced

Cute, quirky girl? Check. Sad-sack boy? Check. Upended life? Check. The difference is that in this case, girl and boy are on level ground. Daisy and Tim share a solid friendship that makes their underlying romance an unusually evenhanded take on male-female relationships. If most of the stories on this list have explored the darker, bittersweet side of being with an oddball woman, Spaced shows you the more mundane joys and tribulations of same. Daisy can be lazy, ditzy, and exhaustingly peppy, but she’s also sweet, funny, and loyal. Tim, in turn, gives as good as he gets. Daisy is the Manic Pixie Dream Girl taken out of the context of glittering, unattainable trophy and recast as a true life partner.


  1. I agree with your choices.
    My kind of article!!
    Well done!!

    Comment by Jerry — August 18, 2010 @ 3:45 pm

  2. Disagree on Ramona, up until the 6th one she was a stereotypical unattainable girl.

    Comment by D — August 19, 2010 @ 1:52 pm

  3. > Here, finally, was a quirky, beautiful love interest who wasn’t just another Manic Pixie Dream Girl — a three-dimensional girl with motivations and an inner life of her own.

    Can you remind me what Ramona’s non-boy-related motivations were? Scott Pilgrim had a family and a rock band, Gideon Graves (sleazy as he was) had a career as a hot-shot producer, Ramona had… a bunch of ex-boyfriends?

    Comment by Jeannie — August 19, 2010 @ 5:34 pm

  4. I really love your choices. This was a great article. I loved it.

    Comment by Amanda — August 19, 2010 @ 6:10 pm

  5. so happy to see daisy on this list!

    Comment by Sierra — August 20, 2010 @ 1:19 am

  6. I have to agree with the blog’s intended question.
    The examples, however, were pretty lacking. The only two I really agreed with were the girl in “Once”, and Alyssa Jones from “Chasing Amy”.
    “40-Year-Old Virgin”s Trish comes close, but there was even something sit-com-ish about her; a slight-of-hand to misdirect you from the fact that her character was written in a way that the movie would have suffered no loss were her character almost completely written-out.
    When it comes down to it, I see the value of the love story. I, however, don’t think we’re going to see too many well-written female characters until we start seeing stories where the love interest serves more purpose than just creating a situation that makes the audience sympathize with the main character(s).
    “When will women be more characters and less story vehicles made to look like characters?”, is more the question than “When will these female-ish script-advancing cogs be more like characters even if they really, still, aren’t?”
    Sadly, from what I can see, the latter question is the question I think I’m seeing asked, here.
    Give me a movie that has a male and female character who aren’t kicking ass and killing people, aren’t having sex and aren’t (at any point) interested in each other. If the audience still can’t get into it, maybe, we should demand for better writers instead of begging for better characters.

    Comment by Joshua Jordan Noordijk — August 20, 2010 @ 1:58 am

  7. Great list. I also thought it was interesting that Clementine was trying to resist being a MPDG when she talks about just being a girl looking for her own peace of mind, and that she wasn’t trying to save anyone. Also when their relationship is breaking apart and Joel is criticizing her–sleeping with people to get them to like her–it felt like a critique of that MPDG persona.

    Comment by Sadako — September 12, 2010 @ 11:27 am

  8. Term was coined by Nathan Rabin. Just thought I’d toss him a little credit.

    Comment by Roger — December 15, 2010 @ 2:55 pm

  9. In the film, Ramona Flowers was a manic pixie nightmare. I felt sorry for Scott.

    Comment by Mart — January 27, 2011 @ 12:12 am

  10. A bunch of ex’s…she only repeats that like 10 times. LOoks like scott wasnt the only one not paying any attention.

    She worked for amazon, liked to travel and explore, loved drinking tea, wanted to learn to be a pilot.

    She was a geek in middle school. Is a sucker for musicians, doesnt dig piercings or tattoos.

    What else do you want to know about her?

    Comment by jordan erickson — October 29, 2016 @ 5:04 am

  11. If you had no appreciation for Clementine, thats your bad. Her character had more substance than Joel.

    Comment by jordan erickson — October 29, 2016 @ 5:07 am

  12. Agreed, movie Ramona not only lacked a lot of important back-fluff, she was played pretty low-emotion and aloof, which comic Ramona wasn’t.

    Comment by Steve — March 18, 2018 @ 7:57 pm

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