An ode to heroines who are simply screwed up

 

Whenever someone asks me what my favorite movie is, one of the first ones that pops into my mind after The Royal Tenenbaums is Almost Famous directed by Cameron Crowe. I can even remember the first time I watched it and what I was wearing that day. As a girl who thinks she was definitely born in the wrong period, the dreamy tale of a teenager/journalist in the making who decides to follow his favorite band on tour in the seventies couldn’t sound anything other than just too damn appealing. Of course, I also couldn’t help but want to be, at the time, my own version of Penny Lane (played by a very young Kate Hudson).

 

 

However, after the third watch many years later, I finally noticed something terribly wrong with her character. Her sole and only purpose as a woman in the movie was to make the two male protagonists feel better about themselves. She was the captivating girl turning their dreadful life into something beautiful and magical, using her own reserves of energy to light their sparks. This kind of character is what people call in cinema jargon a “manic pixie dream girl”. Created by the movie critic Nathan Rabin, the term defines “a feminine character who exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures”. Ouch.

For many years now, we can see these kinds of heroines appearing on the big screen, making us almost believe that a woman only has meaning if she is as bubbly as a glass of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin. From Natalie Portman in Garden State to Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown, these characters seem to be constantly breathing and living on a wonderful dose of MDMA. What the movie directors don’t seem to understand is that we need to see the mistakes and the flaws to allow us to relate, because we know deep down that a picture perfect image in real life is sadly just boring.

 

 

Thankfully, I started to notice recently more and more films presenting more realistic feminine characters. Let’s take for example Greta Gerwig in Maggie’s Plan – which is an entertaining, light movie about how screwed up modern relationships can be – who plays a woman who doesn’t apologize for putting herself first. “I just don’t love to leave my destiny to destiny” her character explains to this friend while talking about being over waiting for a man to complete her life. It is also the case with the character interpreted by Michelle Williams in Take This Waltz – a movie that everyone who has been in a long-term relationship should watch – who is the one turning to what could be described as a manic pixie dream boy (played by Luke Kirby) to escape the monotony of her predictable life. She has a background story and we can witness her evolving throughout the story as the total opposite of the manic pixie dream girl, going from a zone of calm to making a mess of her existence. “Sometimes I’m walking along the street and a shaft of sunlight falls in a certain way across the pavement and I just wanna cry. And then a second later, it’s over. I decide because I’m an adult, to not succumb to the momentary melancholy” she declares in a scene, showing that she might have no more spark inside her after all.

I don’t know about you, but between the beautiful fairies that have their shit together and the ones that are screwed up, I will always feel more attracted to the latter. I want to see feminine characters with personalities and layers. I want them to scream, cry, rage and destroy something. I want them to have their own story, even if it’s a dark and complex one. In the end, nobody wants to be appreciated for the idea that people have of them rather than for their own self.

 

 

“What the movie directors don’t seem to understand is that we need to see the mistakes and the flaws to allow us to relate, because we know deep down that a picture perfect image in real life is sadly just boring.”

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