‘Beginners’ Review: The Manic Pixie Dream Girl strikes again

Oh, the manic pixie dream girl. While I’m not terribly  fond of the exact phrasing of the term, it’s been in circulation ever since A.V. Club’s Nathan Rabin employed it in his review of the Orlando Bloom- vehicle- that- was, Elizabethtown.  So who am I to change it? According to Rabin,  the manic pixie dream girl “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.”

You’ve seen her in many an indie film. Last year’s summer hit, (500) Days of Summer, Almost Famous, Gardenstate (in fact, pretty much every indie movie  Natalie Portman has ever made has her in the MPDG role) etc…and now we may add to this list, Beginners, written and directed by Mike Mills and starring Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer and Melanie Laurent (our French MPDG). 

It’s really a shame that Beginnners, which has gotten a lot of rave reviews and is actually a good movie, gets slated in with this batch of high-end mediocrity. But Mills’ attempts to conventionalize his very unconventional story (his real life dad came out at 75 after the death of his wife, Mills’ mother, and lived  a full, gay life until he died of terminal cancer), weaken what would have been a great, thoughtful movie. 

Melanie Laurent serves no purpose other than to smile mischievously at the camera, her large greyish-blue eyes twinkling cryptically. She and Ewan McGregor meet in a very predictable, idiosyncratic fashion. She can’t talk when they first meet which, incidentally, serves as a great metaphor for her role in the movie– a main character with no context or background. She has one of the vague jobs suitable for this kind of indie– an actress with no noticeable roles or commercial spots acquired. We never actually see her acting. She flits from hotel room to hotel room, (no reasoning as to how she gets the money to do so). Mills attempts to give her some depth with something about a suicidal father and vague descriptions of a childhood but it’s unclear and not well-thought out.

As Rabin states in his seminal work (haha) on the MDPG character, the audience either loves her or hates her. There’s no inbetween. Personally, I wasn’t a fan of Laurent. I’d seen Anna (her name in the movie) a million times in other indie films and I thought Ewan McGregor and his onscreen father (a delightful Christopher Plummer) were a lot more interesting. I didn’t care to watch McGregor and Laurent stare at each other before kissing for the umpteenth time. I didn’t want to hear her gravely French accent or see the side of her boobs as she wanders out of bed in the middle of the night. Mills’ movie was already rich with workable material, and the whole underdeveloped love story was kind of like putting more tomato in a spicy stew because you think your dinner guests won’t be able to handle it, when actually, they can but now all they can taste is bland tomatoes instead of the right, winning combination of spicy deliciousness.

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7 Comments on “‘Beginners’ Review: The Manic Pixie Dream Girl strikes again”

  1. Sara says:

    I love this post and agree so strongly. Beginners was otherwise awesome but the MPDG was annoying as fuuuuuuuck.

    • tometome says:

      Haha, thanks. And the thing that was most frustrating, was that the MPDG was SO unnecessary. Every other character was so much more interesting. And it would have been a much more compelling, creative risk for the director if he had made a movie about loss without some magical pretty girl coming to save the day.

  2. fanta says:

    Wow this review is spot on.
    A French critics said the same thing, there is a huge material with this father-son relationship and he just gave up with this useless romantic plot.

  3. But I love watching these types of movies! It feels like a whole genre of indie films that sort of resemble this one was created within the last three or four years. Let’s go back to the 60’s.

  4. PeaceBang says:

    THANK YOU! I saw it a few days ago and wanted to write my own review but after much frustrated Googling (“SOMEONE must have written about the MPDG in this movie!”) I found yours. I was holding my temper about it until they rollerskated down the hotel hall. I love how they made her hair faux-greasy-messy, because you know… she was just a REAL GIRL. Christopher Plummer’s story line was amazing, though.


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