Some people probably think of Sam from “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. I don’t think that’s exactly right. Aside from the tunnel moment above — which is actually pretty badass in the movie — she isn’t particularly “quirky.” In fact, the right archetype is more like Penny Lane from “Almost Famous.” Maybe there is some other name for this, but I’m calling it the Magic Slut.
Sam has hooked up with a lot of guys. This has made her wise and nurturing, and when a troubled young protagonist comes along, she can impart her knowledge on him. She has suffered all these years to reveal to him hard truths about life! His love redeems her! Only through his eyes can she see herself as worthy of love! Never mind that he is in reality at least 15 times more screwed up than she is! She starts out protecting him, but it takes his purity to save her from a life of unsatisfying relationships and self-hatred.
I don’t love this archetype. In many ways the Magic Slut is just like the MPDG — a projection of the male protagonist’s needs and desires, who exists purely to elevate him from a place of dejection or ignorance, who doesn’t seem to have an independent purpose in the world. When we first meet Sam, she and her stepbrother Patrick are lively and magnetic. But when she becomes the object of Charlie’s affection, she fades away into typical-girl low self-esteem. We see her from afar, mostly, as Charlie stares forlornly at her from his wallflower perch or she kisses her unworthy boyfriend in a shadowy corner.
And, of course, she’s the pretty, more traditionally feminine antidote to mean, smart, Mary Elizabeth, with her punk-rock hair and SAT scores so high she’d never need Charlie as a tutor.
This is all coming out like I hated the movie. I didn’t, actually, there were parts I loved. (Patrick forever, Mary Elizabeth forever except when she becomes a pathetic cartoon, “Rocky Horror”/”Punk Rocky” forever, that amazing permanent house party forever.) But it always sticks in my craw when a writer who supposedly “captures the teenage experience” can’t give us female characters as real and multifaceted as the male ones.