Please, Zooey Deschanel, No More Manic Pixie Dream Girls in 'Sister-In-Law'
Zooey Deschanel has played quite a few Manic Pixie Dream Girls in her life. She's played it with cereal (Flakes), in summer (500 Days of Summer), on a moped with Jim Carrey (Yes Man), in a mattress store (Gigantic), when stabbing her boyfriend with an icicle (Weeds), and in an apartment (New Girl). It seems that Deschanel has played every conceivable type of MPDG, but her newest venture into film, Sister-in-Law , threatens to bring in one more.
Deschanel formed a production company with fellow HelloGiggles co-founder Rivka Rossi, and the two just sold the comedy film. It's set to be scripted by Sarah Heyward, who's a writer for Girls. The movie will follow a woman who meets her boyfriend's family for the first time and has to learn how to get along with his "eccentric" sister.
Of course, "eccentric" is a not-so-secret code word for Manic Pixie Dream Girl. In fact, it's an MPDG's No. 1 quality. Not that there's anything wrong with being eccentric, but as the MPDG illustrates, when most movies try to create that kind of character, it comes off as terribly one-note. Having an Manic Pixie Dream Girl as a potential sister-in-law rather than a romantic partner gives the character a chance to be something a little deeper than her so-called "quirky" qualities. But as Deschanel's filmography shows, we've seen enough of this woman already. She's been written offensively and she's been written well, but it's repetitive all the same.
True, it's not all bad. This movie seems like it will already pass the Bechdel test with flying colors, and it's headed up by some of Hollywood's smartest women. But it just represents the commercialization of any cultural eccentricities outside of the mainstream. The Manic Pixie Dream Girls that seemed so interesting and revolutionary five years ago seem pretty bland today. The Shins had an album that debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard charts (right behind Pretty Ricky). High school cheerleaders shop at Urban Outfitters. Everyone thinks everyone else is a hipster. Every girl thinks every other girl is a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
The trope started out as just another form of sexism towards women in movies, another way that film takes away agency from female characters just to use them as motivation for male protagonists. More recently, movies like Ruby Sparks have taken back the trope for their own. Now, there's few inventive things left to be done with the character.
This doesn't mean that Sister-in-Law is inherently doomed. But it does mean that it's even more important for the film to focus on her humanity rather than her eccentricities, her relationships rather than the way that people react to her. Outside of perpetuating sexist tropes, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl perpetuated the myth that "eccentricities" made people special, made them so much more free-spirited and better and interesting than "normal" people. The most revolutionary thing that Sister-in-Law can do is show that despite how different and weird someone can seem, there's countless ways in which they're just like everyone else. Yes, even Zooey Deschanel.