Exciting! Another new series: Trope of the Week.
What is a trope? A trope is a device, motif, recurring theme, or even a cliche used in storytelling. It can be a character type, a specific line or style of dialogue, a plot device, even a type of location or set.
A trope itself is neither good nor bad. In fact, used appropriately it can be an effective tool. In storytelling, whether in literature or film or other media, a lot of information needs to be communicated to the audience without bogging down the pace with lots of backstory or exposition. A trope can be a kind of shorthand that the creator and audience have agreed on and recognize so the audience knows what to expect and can concentrate on more important parts of the plot.
When overused it can make the storytelling lazy or one dimensional. It then becomes a cliche and distracts from the story.
One of my favorite trope sources is the website tvtropes.org. It is a massive user-run collection of all tropes film, tv, literary, anime, video game, ad nauseum. I’m a bit of an addict.
This week’s trope is currently a popular one; the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is, obviously, a female character type. She is pretty, spontaneous, non-conformist, and above all else, quirky. Cute and quirky are pretty much the two key ingredients for Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She is not usually the protaganist but is often used to rescue the male protaganist from his dull emotionless existence. She is full of the wonder of life and marvels at the delight that each moment holds.
The phrase was first used to describe Kirsten Dunst’s character in 2005′s Elizabethtown but the archetype has been around a lot longer than that, going all the way to Katherine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby and back. Other Manic Pixie Dream Girls include Barbara Streisand in What’s Up Doc?, Sarah Jessica Parker in L.A. Story, Charlize Theron in Sweet November (with a twist of tragedy) and Natalie Portman in Garden State.
But the current reigning monarch of all Manic Pixie Dream Girls is Zooey Deschanel. Almost every role she plays, from (500) Days of Summer to Yes Man is some form of this type. Her new TV show New Girl (quite funny by the way) is almost entirely based on her embodiment of this archetype. On the flipside, a writer on this trope’s page points out that in Elf her character is pretty jaded and that Will Ferrell is actually the Manic Pixie Dream Guy.
Edit:(4/29/12) OK, this is what happens when I’m excited and I want to post an article. I post and then think about it and have more to say or correct. In regards to Zooey, she actually started out as the snarky best friend in movies like Abandon or Failure to Launch. In fact, her character was one of the few bright points in Failure. She only moved to Manic Pixie Dream Girl after movies mentioned above.
What Manic Pixie Dream Girls have you picked up on?
And now for your viewing pleasure, a couple of videos. First up, Zooey makes fun of her own reputation on SNL
And even better, the need to care for all these Manic Pixie Dream Girls roaming the streets has finally led to a home being set up for them. Enjoy.