From AV Club:
Ah, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, that sentient ray of sunshine sent from heaven to warm the heart and readjust the attitude of even the broodiest, most uptight male protagonist. In his My Year Of Flops entry on Elizabethtown, Nathan Rabin coined the phrase “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” to describe that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that “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.” [...]
Like the Magical Negro, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype is largely defined by secondary status and lack of an inner life. She’s on hand to lift a gloomy male protagonist out of the doldrums, not to pursue her own happiness.
See as well a post on PopPolitics, quoting an article by JiJi Lee:
At the heart of these films is the implication that women have the desire and energy to devote themselves to their troubled male counterparts, further ossifying the traditional roles that men and women are supposed to play. While the progressive twist depicts men as the ones in distress, women are still meant to cosset them. [...] She brandishes a bottle of scotch instead of an apron, but the quirky girlfriend is the modern version of Donna Reed or the flashy new sports car, serving as an antidote for the man’s emotional ailment.
Some of the examples given on AV Club: Natalie Portman in Garden State, Meg Ryan in Joe Versus the Volcano, Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby, Melanie Griffith in Something Wild.
I can think of some other examples: Mimi from Rent, Mary from Something About Mary (although that’s partly a satire of the form, so including Mary may be unfair), Charlotte from Lost in Translation, Geena Davis’ character in The Accidental Tourist, and definitely Ana from Stranger Than Fiction. And maybe Clementine from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, although maybe not.
I really like most of these films — and I’ve found the stock MPDG character attractive lots of times — but the critique seems spot-on to me. It’s lazy and shallow filmmaking, and sexist to boot.
So are there Manic Pixie Dream Boyfriends? Maybe — someone in the AV Club thread suggested Benny from Benny and Joon– but I don’t think these guys are nearly as common, because that’s not the slot movies shove male characters into. I do think there are sexist tropes for male characters, but “manic pixie” isn’t one of them.