Upon typing ‘manic pixie dream girl’ into Google, you will immediately be presented with images of Zooey Deschanel. Deschanel has been followed by this trope throughout her career due many of her quirky characters, but most specifically due to her portrayal of Summer in Marc Webb’s (500) Days of Summer. However, Webb actually intended for Summer to be an anti-manic pixie dream girl. Why is this such a common misconception, and how can we receive justice for Zooey?
On the surface, Summer appears to be the perfect example of a manic pixie. She is quirky, adorable, loves old records, and pushes Tom out of his comfort zone by shouting “penis” in public parks. However, there is one major aspect of Summer’s character that makes it impossible for her to be a manic pixie: her actions actively work against Tom’s goals. Nathan Rabin created the term as a critique of female characters who only live to serve the male protagonist. Throughout (500) Days of Summer, Tom is hopelessly in love with Summer, who he thinks is the love of his life. Summer makes it very clear from the beginning that she is not interested in a relationship with him, and in the end she gets married to someone else. Her role serves as the harsh truth to Tom’s idealized romanticization of their relationship. Summer’s actions directly work against what Tom wants, thus making her an anti-manic pixie.
Whether it’s attributed to her big blue eyes or her ukulele covers, Zooey Deschanel is still the cover girl for the MPDG trope. However, she has found clever ways to comment on this undeserved label within her characters. For example, the adorably silly and sometimes-childlike character of Jess in New Girl fits many of the traits of a manic pixie with her oversized glasses and love for singing mid-conversation, but she does not qualify as a MPDG due to her place as the active protagonist of the show. In a very popular clip from Season 1, Deschanel performs an angry monologue in which she claims that you can be both girly, quirky, and strong. When it comes down to it, the manic pixie is a very tired trope. But if you think you’re tired of hearing about it, imagine how Zooey Deschanel (or Kirsten Dunst, Kate Winslet, and Natalie Portman, for that matter) feels about it.