A Whimsical Female Lead That’s Actually Done Right

LJ Haderlie

More stories from LJ Haderlie

When a potential manic pixie dream girl turns out to be really good!

When a potential manic pixie dream girl turns out to be really good!

Last weekend I drove up to Logan to hang out with my best friend. While there, my friend and I watched the 1998 romcom movie “You’ve Got Mail.” Most straight romcoms are cringey and repetitive, so I tend to steer clear unless it’s to make fun of them. Surprisingly enough, I actually really liked this one.

The movie follows the story of Kathleen Kelly (played by Meg Ryan), a small bookstore owner in New York and her struggle to keep her shop open as a new, bigger bookstore opens across the way. Joe Fox (played by Tom Hanks) is the cause of this disruption in Kelly’s flow. As a co-owner of the new bookstore, Fox is a detached businessman who sees only profit.

While this financial struggle is occurring, both Kelly and Fox are emailing back and forth with people they’ve met in an online chat room. They share their thoughts and feelings about life without giving specifics about who they are exactly. Little do they know that the person they’ve been emailing is the very person they consider to be their real life enemy!

The plot is simple and straightforward enough. What I really enjoyed about the movie was the character of Kathleen Kelly.

When the movie first starts, we are introduced to the characters in their normal, day-to-day lives. Kathleen Kelly’s character is free-spirited and down to earth, loving her simple work in the bookshop—she is friendly and lighthearted. Because of this, I was kind of worried that I’d be watching another “manic pixie dream girl” trope happen.

We’ve seen it a million times before—a whimsical, two-dimensional woman steps into the life of a stoic man who couldn’t care less about other people. She changes his world and saves him from misery, making him see that everything is beautiful and lovely, etc.

The manic pixie dream girl trope actually has an official definition in the dictionary, as follows: a type of female character depicted as vivacious and appealingly quirky, whose main purpose within the narrative is to inspire a greater appreciation for life in a male protagonist.

I was happily surprised to find that the character Kathleen Kelly, while upbeat and cheerful, was not overly idolize as an angelical being. Kelly is bright and fun, but still a grounded adult who has weaknesses and imperfections. She’s adorable and happy without being shallow.

Kelly works in her cute little bookshop, finding happiness in the little ways she personally serves her customers. Despite loving her job, we see her question whether or not she is truly satisfied with what she is doing with her life. Kelly longs for something big or exciting to happen to shake things up.

This desire for something more is a source of insecurity for Kelly. Venturing out into something unknown frightens her, but she knows she can’t stay in the same place forever and be happy with her life.

Kathleen Kelly has a big heart and is totally an extrovert—her friendly demeanor sets the atmosphere for her little shop. What I found refreshing was that throughout the movie, Kelly gets frustrated and irritated with people. There’s actually a wide range of emotion that Kelly experiences in the duration of the movie.

Kelly gets annoyed with Joe Fox, finding him to be insensitive and overly blunt. Fox’s impersonal business mindset grates against her own outlook on business. Even though Kelly feels spite towards Fox, she struggles to verbalize it. Kelly discusses this struggle with her friend, confiding that she desperately wishes she could think of the right thing to say in the moment.

Near the end of the movie, Kelly finally comes up with the perfect zinger to say to her enemy. Immediately after it comes out of her mouth, she’s filled with regret and shame. Even though she wanted to say exactly what she said, her empathetic nature takes over her feelings.

Through small moments like this, the show displays a woman that is optimistic, kind, and completely human. This movie could easily have turned Kathleen Kelly into a stale, perfectly happy woman with too much enthusiasm to be realistic, but it didn’t. The movie showed a real person, rather than an ideal. The dimension given to Kelly’s character only adds to her endearing relatability.

Because of the success of Kathleen Kelly’s character and the development of the plot, I really liked “You’ve Got Mail.” It’s a movie that I would love to watch again. If you’re looking for a fun romcom that actually has some depth to it, I’d recommend this one.