Just had one of the most delightful little experiences tonight, and gave me an idea for how a Manic Pixie Dream Girl role could be set in a story about emerging from the hellscape of the past year.
The governor, like some others from the holdout states, has finally lifted the coronavirus restrictions (de facto for now, de jure starting next month). So I headed out today to make the rounds and see what effect it has had. Basically none for now -- it was only announced yesterday, and most people will take a few days or a week to hear about it and react.
But while stopping by a supermarket, I saw a nice bubble-butt girl down the way, so I figured let's take that path and make a little eye contact. Then as I got closer she turned so I saw her in profile and... wait, is she not wearing a mask? No way!
Normally when you see another maskless person in a public place, you don't really high-five each other or even acknowledge each other as belonging to the same team. However, I was so taken aback by a babe baring it all like that in public, that I couldn't help my eyes from fondling every feature of her face. The way you look a curvaceous girl up and down -- only just around the face! How crazy these restrictions are making us.
And just like getting her entire figure looked up and down, she was a bit shocked but more pleasantly surprised, especially since it was from a fellow no-masker, and a hot guy to boot. No judgment, no nagging or finger-wagging. This time, actual recognition that we're both on the same team -- team cool people.
She burst into a bright pure smile, giggled a bit, and said hiiiii! I gave her a nice smile and "Hi" back, letting her know what a breath of fresh air that was, and left it at a pleasant passing interaction. If I weren't recovering from a cold, and had more mental focus, I would've chatted her up a bit about how nice it is to not have to wear them anymore, how surprising it is to see another person doing the same, of course slipping in a quick compliment about how unjust it is for a pretty face like hers to have to be hidden under a mask for so long, and so on and so forth.
Life needs to get a lot more flirtatious now that the dam is breaking among the impotent rulers about trying to force these failed restrictions on us.
Then my mind went to analyzing what type she was, and who to expect the early adopters of free faces to be. She was 5'8 - 5'9, light brown hair, TANNED, cute face, fit body, bubble butt, high-waisted light-blue jeans and a white mid-riff baring top with ever-so-slightly puffy shoulders. As always with us guys, I didn't notice her shoes at all (only really attention-getting stuff like tall boots make an impression).
I'm guessing she was an athlete in high school or college. Now that I think about it, she reminded me a bit of my best girl friend from high school, who played a bunch of sports, as well as cheerleading / poms. Chipper, outgoing, fun-loving, wanting to provoke a little reaction -- for the good -- in other people, while still being a wholesome girl-next-door.
Was she... born from 1995 to 1999? Pretty sure, she didn't look to be in her late 20s, more like 23-25.
That would make her a prime candidate for a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, who are born during manic phases of the 15-year excitement cycle, and play their roles during a restless warm-up phase of the cycle. The last such climate was the restless phase of 2005-'09, with women born between 1980-'84. Fast-forward 15 years, and here we are all over again.
Use google to search the blog for "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" to see all my previous posts on the topic, mainly from last year. But she did seem to check all the boxes, including the ones most observers don't notice as defining features of the MPDG (butt girl rather than boob girl, manic phase birth, boy-ish streak but fundamentally girly and nurturing).
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So then, how could this be made into a MPDG movie for our new restless phase? Below are just the set-up points for this particular movie, with most of the gaps filled in with how they would be in any other example of the genre, with or without some idiosyncratic flare depending on who the writer, audience, and producer are.
Obviously the male protag would not be like me, as I'm not a sad sack seemingly always down-on-his-luck, lurching from one quarter / mid-life crisis to the next, wary to leave the comfort of his asocial cocoon. She doesn't need to nurse me back to health, coax me out of my cocoon, and give me the confidence to give it my all in life and love, etc.
Plus I'm not from the right birth phase -- the sad sacks are typically born during a restless phase. In the late 2000s, these guys were born from 1975-'79 (not a big age gap). During the early '90s, the characters were played by guys born from 1945-'49 (larger age gap, midlife crisis movies). I was born in a manic phase (early '80s), so I'm like the MPDG in being resilient, carefree, and happy-go-lucky. I wouldn't need her to swoop into my life and pick up my spirits. They're my best friends from high school -- peers -- not guardian angels who rescue me.
This time around, who would be in need of her charms and powers? If it's a quarterlife crisis movie, then someone born from 1990-'94. If a midlife crisis movie featuring a noticeable age gap, the same '75-'79 cohort from the late 2000s, only now they're in their mid-40s instead of early 30s. The IRL couple Zach Braff and Florence Pugh would fit the hypothetical pattern, though I don't know how well they'd actually work on camera.
Casting decisions aside, what would be the rough plot and themes? It's like the other MPDG movies, only tied in to the pandemic, and really the restrictions and our adoption of those restrictions. It's another kind of cocoon we've put ourselves into, supposedly ordered by the government -- but hardly anybody challenged them to find out if they were truly being enforced.
Small biz owners held protests last summer, but they were not petitioning the government as everyday ordinary citizens subjected to masking, social distancing, school closures, shuttered offices, etc. Ordinary citizens who didn't want to wear pointless masks indoors, or parents who wanted their kids to be taken care of in school since they paid their taxes already, didn't really push back forcefully until this year.
Now those restrictions are gradually being lifted, although from the view of those who have burrowed into the cocoon, the change is way too rapid and abrupt. Jarring, disorienting, filling them with dread and anxiety.
Naturally, the warped losers who will bitterly cling to these restrictions would not be the main characters, since they're not truly human and do not deserve humanizing. They're just boring lamewads and libtards, whose lives are unworthy of dramatization. Maybe as minor characters who act as foils to the humanizing portrayals of real people. There would be zero mention of politics, "not wanting to appear to be a Trump supporter," etc. Partisans should leave angry, and the silent majority should feel relieved.
The sad sack is someone who is well-meaning and went along with the protocols just to avoid confrontation and not have to face the prospect that he was being told to do something pointless or even harmful. Not a zealot, he was passively psy-opped -- although he was already in a place in his life where he'd been sinking into depression, loneliness, and the like, which made the choice to burrow into the corona cocoon all the easier to just go along with.
Now that the mandates and restrictions are winding down, he feels the security and stability of his bubble-world starting to erode. He sees some people behaving as though corona never happened, and others as though the end of restrictions never happened. It's yet another perplexing social puzzle fucking with his mind.
He's still going along with the restrictions, though out of passivity rather than zealotry. He just doesn't feel prepared enough to emerge from the cocoon -- too risky, at least right now -- although he does flash back to how pleasantly mundane his daily life used to be before the lockdowns etc., and does want to return to that world. Not utopia, but something ordinary, where people aren't wearing masks everywhere, where people exchanged small talk, and schools, libraries, etc., are no longer closed down.
All of his social circle is as hesitant as he is, or more so, to leave the cocoon. So no help in his character development there. Some are passive sad sacks like him, others outright MSNBC junkies, who he views as pitiful and "I hope I don't wind up like that".
Then one day in the supermarket (one of the few places everyone will continue to visit), there's a young woman without her mask on, and he's struck not only by her looks but her having left the cocoon. For a man, it never feels reassuring to see women who are more risk-taking than you. At some point, you might try to prove you're not more risk-averse than she is. The initial feeling is merely unsettling -- upstaged by a girl!
Fascinated, he wanders closer to her, and when he gets within 10 feet or so, she notices him, gives him a puzzled look, which makes him nervous -- what has he done wrong? "Y'know you don't have to wear that thing anymore..." Delivered with a dry-humored head tilt, if she's a mumblecore indie actress, or a bright knowing smile if it's for mainstream audiences. A gentle neg, while still initiating conversation and encouraging him to leave behind his burdens and improve himself.
Maybe she follows up with a highly self-aware comment like, "Besides, I'll bet you have great bone structure, and shouldn't hide it under a mask", sensing that he's the nervous type and might have taken it the wrong way and requires a humorously over-the-top compliment to reassure him.
Their first interaction is pretty brief, leaving him bewildered but consoled that somebody out there seems to care about his well-being. The setting is a supermarket, so they'll both be back frequently and run into each other before too long, not ships passing in the night. Each time he's still wearing the mask, partly out of his own anxiety but also to prod her into chatting him up about taking it off, renewing their social contact during a lonely time. It's somewhat of a running joke between them, but also something she really wants to see him change, as does he.
No wait -- she works at the supermarket, then they don't have to knock into each other coincidentally at the same time, over and over. The proverbial cute Whole Foods cashier of every middle-class liberal under 40's dreams. Maybe she works at the bakery department -- more feminine and nurturing, allows her to show her free-spirited creativity by the type of things she bakes, and how she decorates them, or carves patterns into the bread loaves, etc. And there's more free time for them to chat without the line getting backed up.
As their relationship progresses, she bakes a loaf (or a cake) just for him, with a cartoony version of his mask-free face carved / decorated onto the top. To show she's thinking about him and cares about him, wants to make nice things for him, but also wants to see him pull himself up and leave behind the corona cocoon (for which the mask is only one iconic element, representing the entire spectrum of isolated depression-living he has slipped into).
The cartoony style of the decoration takes the edge off of her message, shows it's not judgmental or harsh, and makes light of a sad situation. (It's also more believable technically -- she's not an accomplished portrait artist, who also happens to work at the local Whole Foods bakery).
The social distancing angle is secondary, since most people didn't really adhere to it very much -- masks were the main thing. But occasionally it references that part of the protocols, by her getting close to him, he gets uncomfortable because he's a nervous sad sack being approached by a babe-alicious guardian angel, but he rationalizes this as fear of germs instead, again using corona as a crutch. But she persists anyway, to express her fondness for him, as well as to cure his fear through exposure therapy -- "See, this isn't hurting anybody, is it?"
When they first kiss, I think she initiates it, and even removes his mask to do so. First she gets up close, casting aside the social distancing guideline. Then she gently removes his mask, against the mask zealotry. Then she gives him a gentle, tender kiss -- not a French kiss -- against the guidelines about not exchanging germs literally face-to-face during a respiratory / aerosol pandemic.
After building up to that point, this first kiss catalyzes his transformation. He gradually starts to undo one restriction, beginning with the mask itself, then another, and another -- and then those restrictions that he invented himself and placed on himself, with no one like the government to blame. Like, "Well, we're quarantined for months... might as well watch Twitch streams / listen to podcasts for 6 hours every day to kill time until it's all over. I have to occupy my time somehow..."
He learns to give up Zoom calls, goes back into a physical building to work, making a point to smile, shake hands, small-talk, and all the other physical mundane stuff he'd been used to. His boss notices this new-found confidence and assigns him some special project, one that can only be done through an IRL presence, joking to him that a lot of his colleagues are still too frightened to leave their Zoom cocoons. Wow, now the boss respects him more, too.
Manic Pixie Dream Girls are fated to not stay with the male protagonist, as they're earthly guardian angels meant to nurse him back to health so that he can do what he's supposed to do, with renewed confidence, vigor, and happiness. Once their role is done, that's it -- but they're the nurturing type, and are happy to play that role, satisfied by how their pet project turned out.
Toward the end, he meets another woman who is still wearing a mask, not sure if it's a co-worker (boring, but also believable). He uses the same line on her that the bakery babe used on him, about good bone structure. She responds to the cocky-funny neg by removing it, and they small talk, flirt a bit, arrange some dates, and start dating seriously. It doesn't really matter who she is, she's the off-ramp, and we can fill in the rest ourselves.
I don't think the MPDG should get spurned in this one, so she meets some creative type who she starts dating as well. Usually she would have to vie with the other woman for the protag's affection, get jealous, feel used or cut loose after having nursed him back to health, and so on. With all the crazy raw emotions going on around the pandemic, lockdowns, etc., I think that part of the standard formula would be out of place.
During their final encounter of the movie, the protag shows up to the bakery with his gf, and sees the MPDG flirting with her bf. While things had gotten more than just friendly between them, they were never a serious couple, so there's no hard feelings, and both have used their new-found confidence to find success in the dating-and-mating world for real -- outside the playful / mock-version that had been transpiring between them during the first 2 acts.
Sure, it's a happily-ever-after ending, but the goal is to make audiences more hopeful and feel inspired to make these changes and improvements themselves. Not to have moral ambiguity cloud the critique of the restritions, nor to have it leave audiences scratching their heads about how they ought to interpret the implications for their own lives.
It's not a high-brow for-all-times movie, but a cultural shock to help get us the hell back to a more normal world. Not by achieving political or economic change -- that's not what culture is capable of doing -- but altering enough social behavior that ordinary people start treating each other differently. The silent majority in this country, and elsewhere, already wants this to happen -- this would not be imposing something on a blank slate. They just need an inspiring pep rally to give them the kick in the pants they need to get going.