If you’re unfamiliar, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (or MPDG) trope refers to a standard female character who “exists only in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writers and directors to teach brooding, soulful young men to understand life and its… environment to embrace infinite mystery and adventure,” said critic Nathan Rabin, who coined the term in 2007 while reviewing “Elizabethtown” for The AV Club. One of the most well-known manic pixie dreamwoman characters is Portman’s Sam in Garden State, which Rabin even describes as a “prime example” of the kind of fantasy women seen on screen.
Portman hasn’t been shy about addressing her role in maintaining the widespread trope, telling Vanity Fair in 2018 that she “finds it very upsetting to be a part of it.” She also elaborated on her MPDG role at a Toronto Film Festival panel in 2015: “I appreciate that people write characters that are interesting and unusual, and not some boring female character as a friend in a movie, but if The character in this movie is supposed to help the guy make his bow, that’s kind of the problem, and so it’s good that they’re talking about it, because it’s certainly a disturbing trope” (via Vulture).
She has since made it clear that she will never play an MPDG again, as the caption of a 2019 profile with Elle explains. Portman explained to Elle, “It’s certainly stifling to be the one who implements someone else’s idea of how a young woman should behave.” One look at her filmography, especially in the years after Garden State, and it it’s clear that she’s committed to breaking out of these limiting female roles and tropes.