As played by Natalie Portman in Zach Braff’s 2004 film Garden State, Sam was not the first manic pixie dream girl to grace the silver screen, but the role did help define the genre. And launch a song-and-dance theatrical piece that takes to the stage Saturday night at The Registry Theatre.
MANICPIXIEDREAMGIRLS is a production of Rock Bottom Movement, and the creation of Alyssa Martin.
A teen when the film appeared, Martin later discovered she’d been unconsciously following in Sam’s footsteps … and that maybe wasn’t a good thing.
“I was modelling myself after her, without knowing what I was doing,” she says down the line from Rock Bottom’s Toronto home base, adding how she came to see how harmful the trope could be. “They’re these bizarre, fairy-like characters that only serve the male character’s story. They don’t have their own story or life.”
From that realization was born a tale in which the table is turned and the pixie is the star and it’s her story that’s being told. It lets the pixies do their thing in a good way rather than playing second banana to the male lead and his needs.
“Our supporting banana is a male actor who is supporting the manic pixie dream girls,” she laughs.
The term manic pixie dream girl (MPDG for short) is attributed to film critic Nathan Rabin, who applied it to Kirsten Dunst’s character in the Cameron Crowe film Elizabethtown. Such a character, he said, “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.”
The MPDG traces her roots back much farther than that, however, to the likes of Katherine Hepburn in 1938’s Bringing Up Baby, Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot (1959) and Kate Hudson in Almost Famous (another Crowe film from 2000).
Being familiar with the trope, and Garden State in particular, is helpful when heading in to see the show, but not essential, as it creates a manic pace of its own through song and dance, says Martin.
“I wouldn’t say it makes or breaks it, but it does give a little inside edge if you’ve seen it recently or have an attachment to the movie.”
In the end, it’s really about entertainment.
In being entertaining, the production both takes a poke and offers sympathy to the manic pixie dream girl.
“Sometimes we’re totally satirizing the trope. Sometimes it’s more positive, where we see the pixie break out of the mould,” says Martin.
The takeaway message comes from each audience member.
“It depends on the person. A lot of the response from people of [my] generation is sort of nostalgic. Some other people find it liberating to see people being free to do what they want.”
Such thought-provoking goals are not uncommon for Rock Bottom Movement, formed by Martin in when she was a third-year student at Ryerson Theatre School in Toronto. The company has since created some 15 new works that seek to confuse genre boundaries and upend audience expectations … in a delightful way.
“Our company does works that are a blend of theatre and dance,” she says. “Our work strives to push the boundaries of live performance in Canada while reaching out to diverse and broad audiences, many of whom might be new to one or more of our disciplines. Interesting art doesn’t have to be alienating. In fact, we think the most interesting art of all strives to be fundamentally not so.”
MANICPIXIEDREAMGIRLS come to life Saturday (January 26) at 7:30 p.m. at The Registry Theatre, 122 Frederick St., Kitchener. Tickets are $30, available by calling 519-578-1570, online or at the door. There’s also an option to “pay as you leave for enjoyment received.”