Are we living in the age of the Manic Pixie Dream Boyfriend?
Recent reports indicate yes!
Images by Phillip Faraone (L) and Jeff Kravitz (R) via Getty
If the noughties were dominated by the trope of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl — a stunningly attractive, effervescent, quirky and energetic girl who gives the brooding male character a new lease on life, as exemplified by Zooey Deschanel in 500 Days of Summer and New Girl, Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown and Margo in John Green’s YA novel Paper Towns -- then 2021 has taken the Y2K staple and upgraded it. Enter: the Manic Pixie Dream Boyfriend.
Caveat: technically the Manic Pixie Dream Boyfriend is not a new concept. In fact, The Cut coined the term in an essay all the way back in the pre-pandemic halcyon days of 2015, eight years after A.V Club writer Nathan Rabin coined its predecessor. The Manic Pixie Dream Boyfriend”, writes Anna Breslaw, is “the self-mythologizing ‘free-spirited’ dude who’s determined to make your life magical, whether you want it or not.” He is, the essay posits, the kind of man irresistible to goal-orientated, career driven women, who need a break from obsessing about hitting their life markers, one of which is dating the men they feel they are “supposed” to be dating. The MPDB is free-spirited. He lives in the moment. His total lack of tangible ambition is at first refreshing, before it becomes — presumably in a “you listen to The Smiths? Name five songs” way — annoying.
But in the six years since, Manic Pixie Dream Boys never really popped off until a slew of them appeared on the arms and open mouths of some of the world’s most famous people in the last few months. 2021, according to The Internet, is the true year of the MPDB. Just look at everyone’s favourite PDA-loving, “what do you think is going on there” couples: Kourtney Kardashian and Travis Barker, Megan Fox and Machine Gun Kelly, and latterly, in perhaps the most egregious example of the trope, newly-divorced Kim Kardashian and inexplicable top shagger from SNL, Pete Davidson.
The allure of the Manic Pixie Dream Boy has, like all trends equally good and cursed, well and truly caught the imagination of the FYP. Creator @broketokeandchoke heralded its celebrity return earlier this month, in a video where she claims “this brand of white man is to women what Manic Pixie Dream Girl is to men”, overlaid on images of MGK, Pete and Travis. It has raked in over 2 million views thanks to its infinite wisdom.
The hashtag #manicpixiedreamboy has users retrospectively identifying the Manic Pixie Dream Boy in cinematic history (Ferris Bueller, Jack Dawson, Jesse from Pitch Perfect, Jacob from Crazy Stupid Love); arguing that we need more of them in current movies; and adding new names to the celebrity canon of Manic Pixie Dream Boys (notably, Hozier). Creator Caroline Klidonas goes one step further, creating addictive and intricately scripted clips where she parodies film tropes of the sad girl and the MPDB (and has unnervingly excellent chemistry with herself playing both parts). And like all things in the zeitgeist, where the KarJenners and the TikTokers go, the rest of us mere mortals are destined to follow.
It’s how long we will be following though, that’s the main question. After all the allure of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, in her original format, was partially the incongruousness of the relationship. She is, with her man, half of an odd couple, the opposites attract trope come to life in a quirky and unexpectedly adorable fashion. It’s this incongruousness, replicated with the Manic Pixie Dream Boyfriend, that leads many to speculate that the relationship is simply not destined to last (Kourtney and Travis, in a burns bright fades away kind of thing); or that they live in two completely different universes, unable to truly communicate (Megan and MGK); or that it’s simply some kind of stunt. Of the internal workings of the Manic Pixie Dream relationships of today, of course, we cannot speak with authority — even knowing the sheer machiavellian power of Kris Jenner’s mind palace — but certainly looking at mid-00s film tropes, the Manic Pixie dynamic is not one made to last.
The MPD boyfriend or girlfriend comes into your life when you need it most and stays for as long as is necessary for you, the main character of life, to develop empathy and grow in some way. Then, like the eponymous Summer in 500 Days of Summer, they leave, making way for Autumn. Maybe the Manic Pixie Dream Boys of today are merely gateway drugs for the celebrity women who choose to love them (and choose to force us to watch us love them, holding our eyes open with metaphorical toothpicks while they grind on each other at their friends’ weddings). As much as we want to believe in true love, maybe Megan will not marry MGK (sad!).
But who knows! A Pete Kardashian-Davidson in the future? Stranger things have happened! Did you know Tom Cruise used to go out with Cher? Us neither, until right now after Googling “weirdest celebrity couples of all time”! Ah, isn’t love grand?