Saturday, March 15, 2014

A look at Girls' Jessa (and the Manic Pixie Dream Girl)

By Anči

As a fan of the show Girls, I have to say I'm happy with the precarious path that's been laid out for Jessa. It's not that I hate her character or want her to suffer - it's more that I find her fate to be a  refreshing representation of what really goes on inside creatures like her.

Because a long-time pet peeve of feminism's has been film and TVs incessant reliance on the "Manic Pixie Dreamgirl" trope - in place of an actual, fleshed out female character. The manic pixie dreamgirl, for those of you who don't know, is a personality invented by misunderstood male screen writers, as a way to breathe life into the malleable girl of their dreams.

But the reason I stress that she's invented, is because the defining characteristic of an MPDG is her uncomplicated quirkiness unmet by any cares, or concerns that affect real people.  She's funny, and cute, and odd  and innocent - while lacking any real depth or substance - she's also the center of every "indie" romantic comedy starring Zooey Deschanel.

What Girls' does brilliantly is flip the script on on the MPDG in their portrayal of Jessa - a quirky, ethereal, often childishly innocent beauty - with virtually no responsibilities, no sense of urgency, and nothing to tie her down. Her seemingly relaxed approach to relationships is predictably charming to (mostly middle-aged) men, who crave a free spirit to make them feel alive, and have afternoon sex with.


That's where a MPDG normally begins and ends, (with afternoon sex, typically set to the whimsical vibrations of a ukulele... or coldplay.) That is, at least, according to the standard onscreen portrayals of alluringly flighty women. But Girls does us the much-needed service of further exploring this particular variety of babe with questions like (my words) "what the fuck is this floaty fairy princess's problem that she can't ever  take anything seriously?"

After all, how long can a MPDG survive on childish cheer, and peasant skirts alone? Does she ever get lonely, or start craving routine? And what does she look like when people finally grow tired of her act? According to Girls, she looks something like Jessa, whose wild beauty, and  unattainably free-spirited existence, come crashing to the ground, when her quickie marriage falls apart, and then again, when she winds up in rehab.

MPDGs enjoy peeing in public, and wearing wildflowers in their hair.

It's at that point Hannah makes it clear to her friend that she no longer finds her constant disappearing charming, explaining "It [makes] me remember what it was like in college when you'd say, 'Oh, meet me at the Free Palestine party,' then I'd find out you're over at the Israel house. And so I just wish you would get it that this is not ok behavior for a friend."

(Because contrary to MPDG mythology suddenly taking off without a warning or goodbye, isn't as romantic as it's... emotionally callous, and thoughtless.)

And "thoughtless" is exactly how I'd describe most of Jessa's interactions: including the infuriatingly tone-deaf sequence between herself, and a married man whom she carelessly invites to a party one night, only to appear utterly mystified when he makes a pass at her. It was a brilliantly executed scene, that rightfully robbed Jessa of much of her likeability.

Not to mention that whereas a romantic comedy, might have played up her dopey innocence in an attempt to showcase her childish charm (what? you thought we were going to make out? I just wanted to party with you late at night, after months of flirting back and forth! Because whimsy!) Girls managed to make both her and the married man look like insufferable dicks: him, for obvious reasons, and her, for feigning cluelessness of standard social cues, in order to get a kick out of rejecting a man who was obviously crazy about her.

To sum up, Jessa's character is perhaps the most honest response to the decade-long reign of flaky romantic leads, famously (re)conceived by the whiny musings of Zach Braff. (Remember Garden State, where Braff's character falls in love with an adorable pathological liar played by Natalie Portman? And everything turns out perfectly, despite the fact that his girlfriend is a ticking time-bomb of personality disorders??)

Luckily for us, Girls represents a much-needed shift in that male-dominated vision of intriguing women - which will hopefully soon include, a much more ballsy, badass variety of bitch. (Look out, dudes. Your fantasy is about to wake up and set you straight.)

1 comment:

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