It’s come to my attention a month late that Ruby Sparks is out on DVD. I was lucky enough to see Ruby Sparks in the theater earlier this year. I highly recommend it to anyone who likes quirky indie comedies, cute ginger girls and/or cute nerdy guys, and and vintage-inspired dresses paired with colored tights. Most of all, I recommend this movie for its perfect deconstruction/satire of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope.
You know the type. That Girl. That fun, bubbly, quirky, reckless, impulsive bundle of exhilaration whose purpose in life is to bring joy and sunshine to all around her. She’s almost always paired with the shy, depressed, cynical, geeky loner, usually an artistic type. She drags him out of his shell and teaches him to embrace the joys of life and to live for the moment. She fixes all his flaws and he brings her down to earth. And they live happily ever after. Ruby Sparks brilliantly deconstructs this trope and demonstrates why, in real life, the pairing of Manic Pixie Dream Girl and Manic Depressive Cynic Boy seldom works.
The basic plot: Struggling novelist Calvin creates a character named Ruby Sparks for a book he’s writing. She’s his Canon Sue protagonist’s love interest, of course. Ruby is Calvin’s dream girl. She’s fun, quirky, talented, beautiful, and crazy about the protagonist. She has no desires or goals outside of bringing joy to the protagonist’s lonely life. Not only does Ruby exist to fix all of the protagonist’s flaws, she has a few of her own that she needs him to ride in on his white horse and fix. “Ruby’s not so good at life – she forgets to open bills and keep appointments.” Aww, isn’t that sweet? They need each other to be functioning human beings!
Then, through the power of literary magic, Ruby comes to life. She’s living in Calvin’s house and claiming to be Calvin’s long-time girlfriend. The first week is a dream come true. Ruby drags Calvin out dancing every night. She skips and sings around the house while she cooks gourmet meals. Calvin begins to develop a proxy social life through Ruby, whom everyone, including his mostly-estranged family, loves at first sight.
But the longer Ruby exists in Reality, she becomes less of a fantasy and more of a real woman with real needs – needs that conflict with Calvin’s. Introverted Calvin prefers to stay in most nights and is quickly drained when he’s forced to do otherwise. Extroverted Ruby prefers to go out dancing and spending time with friends as often as possible and goes stir-crazy if she can’t. Calvin wants to sit quietly and read a book during a long stay at his parents’ house. Ruby wants to join Calvin’s active parents in swimming, building, crafting, gardening, you name it. Calvin likes having a job that lets him work from home with no people around and no set schedule. Ruby goes crazy having nothing to do but paint by herself and keep house all day, and eventually joins an art class. Calvin likes peace and quiet while he reads, writes, or watches TV. Ruby likes to chatter and sing. Both eventually realize the relationship isn’t working. Calvin knows his fantasy girl is about to do the unthinkable: leave. The movie takes a dark turn from here, one I’ll leave you to see for yourself.
I’ve been lucky enough to know a few real-world Manic Pixie Dream Girls. They’re special people who are an awesome part of my life. I’ve watched them fall for Manic Depressive Cynic Guys and try to live out the fantasies in everyone’s favorite indie movies. And I’ve watched them discover that those stories are just fantasies. That “two people trying to fix each other” is a terrible premise for a relationship. That they don’t want a guy who they have to drag to the dance floor, figuratively or literally. They need a guy who’s already out there waiting for them. In other words, they need a Manic Pixie Dream Guy.
Though I have the greatest respect and affection for these Manic Pixie Dream People, I know I am not and never will be one myself. I’m the shy, cynical, geeky, depression-prone, artistic loner who once dreamed of a Manic Pixie Dream Partner of my own. But I’ve grown to realize that I don’t want to be dragged onto the dance floor. If I’m fantasizing about a partner who will teach me to embrace life and live in the moment, doesn’t that mean I already have a desire to do those things? I’m a capable adult human being. Why wait for a partner to teach me? Why not step out on the dance floor myself, alone and unassisted? Why wait for a partner to balance me out when I can just learn to be a balanced person myself?
And is not wanting to spend all night on the dance floor really unbalanced? I don’t think it is. While younger me longed for a Manic Pixie Dream Partner to drag me out of my shell, grownup me wants a partner whom I can invite into my shell and who is as happy and comfortable in there as I am, and who knows how to leave it by their own initiative when necessary.
So while I treasure my Manic Pixie Dream Friends, I’ll leave them to each other where romance is concerned. They don’t need me to balance or stabilize them. I’m pretty sure what I would call “stabilizing,” they’d call “cramping their style.” I’ll sit back and enjoy watching the dance. Maybe I’ll find another wallflower who’s happy to sit quietly and watch with me.
And maybe me and my wallflower will step out on the floor for just one dance. By our own initiative. Together.