They were not wrong—to an extent. As more and more women filmmakers have been producing works from their lens, and male filmmakers have actively fought against the trope, the amount of blatant Manic Pixie Dream Girls have drastically decreased into the 2010s. Still, when I tuned into Chemical Hearts on Amazon, I began to question whether the MPDG had simply found a loophole: the tragic backstory.
In Chemical Hearts, we meet Henry Page (Euphoria’s Austin Abrams), a dull senior in high school whose most significant accomplishment is his spot as editor of the school newspaper. He has a couple of close friends, his parents are still together, and he has nothing to write for his college essay. His favorite hobby is smashing perfectly good vases to perform Kintsugi—the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold to create something even more beautiful. A perfect metaphor, it would just so happen, for his attempts to woo transfer student Grace Town (Lili Reinhart).
She has all the makings of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl—her disinterest in being Henry’s co-editor rattles him out of his ennui, as does her nonchalant attitude, mysterious injury, and affinity for poetry. “I think you’re the most confusing human being I have ever met,” he tells her at one point, to which she replies, “I think I’m just the most confused human being you’ve ever met and that confuses you.” Deep.
I don’t mean to be cynical—and I should clarify that I haven’t read the book written by Krystal Sutherland, which possibly lends much more nuance to Grace. However, in this adaptation by screenwriter and director Richard Tenne, she simply feels like another piece of clay Henry fails to mend.
One could argue that Grace is not a Manic Pixie Dream Girl because she has her own history: Before joining Henry’s class, she was—spoiler—in an accident that took the life of her longterm boyfriend and left her with a severe injury. I’m sure many would point out the story is a warning against Henry’s mounting obsession with a girl who has her own life and trauma to work through. The problem is that we never get to see the world through her eyes.