Romantic Comedies and Girls that Teach you to How to Live

In The Argument of Comedy, Northrop Frye writes that romantic comedy has been characterised by reaching a resolution in which an individual undergoes transformation and gets ”freed from the bonds of a humorous society”[1]. This transformative resolution of the genre is linked to female characters that film critic Nathan Rabin described as ”manic pixie dream girls”. Across film history, it has often been male protagonists who were initially presented as stoic and unfulfilling of the potential of human experience, who then undergo a transformation inspired by lively female characters who possess youthful energy and wisdom about living fully that the male characters, their love interests, learn from them.

This trope was present in comedies of remarriage of the 30s and 40s, in which heroines are ”neither young nor old, experienced yet still hopeful”[2], wise and seeking out the possibilities of life, as well as in contemporary romantic comedies such as 500 Days of Summer (Marc Webb, 2009, USA) and Garden State (Zach Braff, 2004, USA). To look further into Garden State: Sam is a humorous character, representing the humorous society Andrew cannot access emotionally due to his mood-stabilising medication he should not be on. They meet due to Sam approaching him and it is Sam who continuously invites him into her extraordinary experiences; as seen in the clip, she invites him into her extraordinary house and extraordinary movements and ideas about originality and the extraordinary experience of burying her hamster. Sam teaches Andrew the beauty of embracing life, and so he confronts his father who put him on medication, reaching a resolution of establishing that he will stop taking medication and mending his relationship with his father. Andrew is transformed and no longer situated amidst a humorous society, a society that lives more playfully and energetically than he does, because he has stepped up to society’s vibrant approach to life.

This trope of the genre has created a tradition of complex female characters with unique quirks. As emphasised in the video essay The Manic Pixie Dream Girl Trope, Explained, even if these heroines were created as a male fantasy, they are not unrealistic dream girls intended to solve men’s issues. Rather, they are simply presented with a unique personality that allows them to be seen as complex human beings. These characters would live their extraordinary lives regardless of whether they encountered the male protagonists or not; the transformation of the male characters is a side effect of how these heroines choose to live.



[1] Northrop Frye, “The Argument of Comedy,” English Institute Essays (New York: Columbia, 1949), 60.

[2] Stanley Cavell, “Introduction: Words for a Conversation” and “Pros and Cons,” Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 1981), 18.

Movieclips, ”Garden State (5/11) Movie CLIP – A True Original (2004) HD”, Youtube video, February 18, 2012, 2:19.

The Take, ” The Manic Pixie Dream Girl Trope, Explained”, Youtube video, April 19, 2020, 22:42.


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