▶ Pixie is in UK cinemas from 23 October.
The ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ – a kooky female character whose sole role in a film is to impart life lessons to the male protagonist – may be a term of recent coinage, but the phenomenon is far from new. (The Wikipedia entry delightfully begins with examples from Dante, Homer and Shakespeare before unfolding a more recent rogues’ gallery of cinematic culprits.) It’s hard not to think the makers of Pixie were tempting fate when they so named their female lead.
Pixie (Olivia Cooke) is a woman in a man’s world – in fact the only woman bar her younger sister. It’s fair to say that she’s a woman in a man’s film, too. Written by Preston Thompson and directed by his father Barnaby, Pixie is the latest in a long tradition of masculine, gun-toting action movies, many of which were clear inspirations.
The hat-tipping begins early on: after the film’s bloody opening scene a Morricone-esque score plays and a title card appears reading “Once Upon a Time in the West” – before the playful punchline “of Ireland” appears. Pixie has spaghetti western blood running through its veins – and often spraying out of baddies’ heads.
Substituting for aridity of the Old West we have the boggy fields of County Sligo, and hints of Tarantino begin to emerge as a blood-splattered windscreen kicks the film’s knotty plot into gear.
To cut a long story short, two friends (Ben Hardy and Daryl McCormack) unwittingly become custodians of 15 kilograms of MDMA, whilst Pixie – who is already entangled in the story due to a family connection to crime – comes along simply for the craic of it. The trio’s goal is to sell the gear for a tidy sum and to ride off into the sunset, a plan hatched by the pair but embellished and orchestrated by Pixie.
The combination of Irish teenage wannabe criminals and an industrial supply of drugs immediately brings to mind The Young Offenders. Chris Walley (The Young Offenders’s Jock) also appears in Pixie in a small but memorable role, as the local dealer who passes on the details of his supplier to the newly-formed gang, though dialling down the wonderfully thick Cork accent that made Jock so memorable.
Walley also won an Olivier award for his work in Martin McDonagh’s play The Lieutenant of Inishmore, shades of which can be found in a funny moment where a torture scene is interrupted by a phone call, the victim left dangling at the end of a rope.
McDonagh’s brand of aggressively violent comedy is perhaps this film’s most direct point of comparison, although Pixie (despite its occasional bloodlust and penchant for crude jokes) is never as sadistic as The Lieutenant of Inishmore or as caustic as In Bruges.
A reliance on the image of vengeful, violent priests for laughs wears a little thin by the time the climactic shootout begins (although Alec Baldwin does steal his scenes as the most sinister man of the cloth) and the film’s clever lines are outweighed by more predictable ones.
Olivia Cooke is charismatic as Pixie, a fun-filled force of nature in a red leather duster. But when the film ends, and she imparts her final lesson upon the boys who she’s dragged through the film – an oddly-worded feminist coda about “making trouble on behalf of women” – the Manic Pixie Dream Girl klaxon drowns out the hollow tone of these parting words.