Let me introduce you to my cool and very attractive boyfriend who isn’t relatable and wears a cape as a metaphor.
We all know about the manic pixie dream girl trope that has been played out over and over again, and I am a bit worn out. But then, from the left field, Hollywood gave us what they thought we wanted, an equivalent to the manic pixie dream girl.
That’s right. I am talking about the manic pixie dream boy.
What is the manic pixie dream boy?
The MPDB is a kind of quirky, attractive, and misunderstood guy who values the female protagonist for something that isn’t related to her career or personal goals.
Anna Breslaw, who coined the term back in 2015, describes the MPDB as "the self-mythologizing 'free-spirited' dude who’s determined to make [the female protagonist’s] life magical, whether [they] want it or not."
The films that star these MPDBs revolve around the experiences and struggles that women face in everyday life, but it all gets put on the back burner when the male love interest knows exactly how to free her spirit from the struggles that she is facing.
Similar to the manic pixie dream girl, the MPDB wants to show the female protagonist that there is so much more to life if she just stops and smells the roses. He is fun and outgoing, and every day with him is like an adventure.
Their free-spirited nature forces the protagonist out of her comfort zone, and his ability to recite his favorite author or poet is truly stunning. He is so deeply in love with the protagonist that it scares him, but he will be there whenever she needs him.
MPDG vs. MPDB
The difference between the MPDG and MPDB is that the boy doesn’t care about the rules and lacks any responsibility for his actions. He knows exactly what is wrong with the female protagonist’s life even if she doesn’t see this as a problem.
He might profess his love for the protagonist, then disappear immediately due to his mysterious past experiences. Or he was bored. Or he dies.
Believe it or not, you have already been exposed to the MPDB. Think Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort) in The Fault in Our Stars, Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) in Titanic, or almost anything starring Noah Centineo.
It is a trope that isn't talked about at all, but it is easily recognizable once you know the telltale signs of an MPDB.
So why should we be upset about this?
If you’re upset about the MPDG trope and its failure to represent women outside of outdated gender norms, then you should be upset about MPDBs! They are practically the same thing with different qualities.
Unfortunately, MPDBs try so hard to break cliches that they ultimately become one that re-establishes both male and female gender roles. Men are being told through this trope that to find any sort of love, they have to act like these “cool” and unconventional guys. MPDBs affect women as well, because the trope is romanticizing the idea of releasing the tight grip that women have on their personal or career goals.
Overall, MPDBs are toxic.
Yes, they are charming and stunning to look at, but their constant spontaneous displays of affection are unrealistic. Eventually, if the MPDB keeps existing in the film, we are left with a static man-child that won’t commit to anything fully, and we are supposed to be okay with that.
Eventually, the female protagonist will want to go back to their normalcy of life. Once normalcy kicks in, the MPDB becomes obsolete. He can no longer perform his designed role, which is why he is killed off in so many films (Titanic, Five Feet Apart).
Ways to overcome this trope
Ask what purpose this character serves. If their purpose is to show the girl that there is more to life, I’m sorry to say this, but you may have an MPDB.
Develop a well-rounded character. A male love interest who shows a girl there is more to life outside of work is okay if he has more layers to him. Tell the audience why he enjoys being spontaneous or at least shows that he respects the protagonist’s career and personal goals. By creating a layered character, they become more complicated and create a rich storytelling experience.
Is this man relatable? Guys, doesn't it make you feel low-key insecure when someone is gushing because a character has all the qualities you don’t have? Well, as a girl who has been fed all types of media showing how women should be, I can relate, and it’s not a fun experience. Create a relatable character that still serves the story. Think about Edgar Wright’s characters and how they may or may not be able to exist in our world.
It’s okay to show a female protagonist that there is more outside her regular, everyday life, but there has to be growth in the MPDB. He can’t have the same mentality for the rest of his life or the rest of the film. Show us some character development! How does this person grow in the relationship? Why is he with the girl outside of the obvious reasons?
In the end, it’s important to realize the impact your characters have on the audience. The MPDB is a static character that is harmful to men and women and doesn’t really serve a purpose outside of reminding the female protagonist to enjoy life.
What do you think about manic pixie dream boys? Let us know in the comments!