When I read Spinelli’s novel as a teenager, it was one of my early encounters with the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype, but I noticed that it challenged some MPDG conventions. Stargirl and Leo were magnetically attracted to each other, and this attraction was narrated from the guy’s perspective (typical), but Leo was not the only character to fall in love with her. In fact, most of Mica High loved her platonically. Stargirl had interests beyond Leo’s insecurities, and there was a distinct sense that she only invited him into her life because he was a sincere misfit like her, and therefore a worthy companion. Stargirl acted without shame, but she didn’t act without reason.
“Scream, Leo… Don’t you want the universe to hear you?” — Stargirl (Grace Vanderwaal)
The adaptation adds an irksome Disney sheen to the novel’s implicit critique of celebrity and disposability (I muted some of the dance numbers), but the film is admirably loyal to the original story. Perhaps too loyal.
Stargirl’s bohemian shtick was remarkable in 2002, and even still in 2009 (when I originally read the novel), but it feels outdated in 2020 — in an era when people want to be weird more often than not. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl has evolved since Jerry Spinelli wrote his version of her.