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Re-Evaluating Pop Culture's Craziest Ex-Girlfriends

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Photo: The CW/Facebook

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The technical term is "pulling a Felicity." That's what it's called when you do something crazy for a guy. In the case of the titular character of the 1998 WB drama, it was following her crush Ben across the country to go to college in New York, all because of what he wrote in her yearbook. In this fall's new CW show, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the main character Rebecca finally restores balance to a universe that has been slightly off-kilter ever since Felicity Porter fled the left coast: After a chance run-in with her ex from camp, Josh, she heeds the call to "Go West, young woman," and follows him to California.

Like canceling out a fraction, you can simplify the phrase "crazy ex-girlfriend" down to its roots: crazy girl. Felicity Porter may not have been a crazy ex-girlfriend — she and Ben had barely ever spoken, much less dated — but she sure was a crazy girl. All it takes is some swoony feelings that harden into an obsession and one rash decision. Then bam, you've joined the lineage of the crazy girl.

For Crazy Ex-Girlfriend's Rebecca, played by Rachel Bloom, who has a touch of Natasha Lyonne about her, it means leaving a plum position as a junior partner in a New York law firm to put her Ivy League degrees to use in a dinky law practice in the not-particularly-cosmopolitan California town her object of desire calls home. He dumped her after a teenage romance, but when they see each other on the street in New York 10 years later, he calls her hot, and it makes her reevaluate her life. Or maybe she was already reevaluating her life when he appeared. Because it's never really about him. The crazy girl's crazy is so big that it tends to swallow up everything else in its path. She's crazy because she is too much, always overreacting, considering the proportionate and reasonable response to a thoughtful yearbook message or a "hey, we should hang out sometime" to be a cross-country move.

How can you recognize the crazy girl? Mascara runs around her just-as-crazy-as-she-is eyes, like Taylor Swift in the "Blank Space" video. She is Carrie Bradshaw going off on Berger's friends when she runs into them at the club after being dumped via Post-It. Marnie on Girls pathetically Facebook-stalking her ex's photos, muttering, "Ew. Gay. What?" Kristen Wiig freaking out and destroying the "stupid fucking cookie" at the wedding shower in Bridesmaids. An angry Molly Ringwald asking, "What about prom, Blane?"

In most examples, the crazy girl isn't actually scary. Imagine if a guy followed you across the country. That would be the stuff of restraining orders. Crazy Ex-Boyfriend basically already exists, minus any jauntiness: It's the 1996 movie Fear, the one where Mark Wahlberg gets so mad when Reese Witherspoon tries to stop seeing him that he imprisons her family in their home and tries to kill them. In comparison, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend's Rebecca is a peach. Felicity? A marshmallow. They have their quirks — Rebecca sometimes bursts into song (the show is a musical comedy), and Felicity's a tumbleweed of hair, knitwear, and neuroses. But crazy? Pshaw. Which raises the question: What if everyone who seems like a crazy girl is actually, if not sane, unfairly maligned? Below, we reevaluate some of our favorite crazies.

Miss Havisham from Great Expectations

The O.G. crazy girl. You know the deal: tattered wedding dress, witchy vibe, hatred of all men. After being left at the altar, Miss Havisham stops all the clocks in her house and sets out to ruin a young man's life just because she can. And yet. "We see these wounded women everywhere," Leslie Jamison wrote in a defense of this type: Who are we to ignore a woman's feelings? Jamison continued, "I'm tired of female pain and also tired of people who are tired of it. I know the ‘hurting woman' is a cliché but I also know lots of women still hurt. I don't like the proposition that female wounds have gotten old; I feel wounded by it." Some man screwed Miss Havisham over — before peacing, he also defrauded her of her fortune — doesn't she have a right to be mad? #TeamHavisham.

Alex from Fatal Attraction

Surely you remember the famous bunny boil? When a married man, played by Michael Douglas, sleeps with a single career woman — innocent mistake, we've all been there — she goes psycho on him and his family (and their pet!). But he should have seen it coming: just look at that out-of-control curly hair! Characters like this — see also every other Michael Douglas movie of the era — were so baldly a reaction to the gains women were making in society after the '70s and '80s that Susan Faludi practically wrote a whole book about them, called Backlash. Hence the part where she gets taken down in the end, defeated by a wholesome, upstanding, philandering-but-eh-can't-win-'em-all man.

Stacy from Wayne's World

You know who was an under-appreciated crazy ex-girlfriend? Stacy, played by Lara Flynn Boyle in Wayne's World. In one scene, she brings Wayne a beautiful gun rack and all Wayne does is ask her if she's mental (meanwhile Garth calls her a "psycho hosebeast"). So she does seem a little off — her "Wayne" necklace, her way-too-fancy-for-the-doughnut-shop pink dress, her choice of gift for a guy with no previously expressed interest in firearms — but we also never get to see anything from Stacy's perspective, learn why they broke up, or even the circumstances of their going out in the first place — she's mostly a punchline (and punching bag). Meanwhile, Wayne is the with a basement cable-access TV show obsessing over a guitar he'll never buy.

Madison from Swimfan

Because the world needed a teen spin on the crowd-pleasing tale of Fatal Attraction. Jesse Bradford stars as a high-school swimmer who's dating sweet-as-pie Shiri Appleby but accidentally winds up hooking up with Erika Christensen in the very pool where he practices. (Hey, it happens.) Because this is high school in 2002 and not Fatal Attraction's go-go '80s business world of secretaries and answering machines, she stalks him over dial-up Internet. Her screenname? SwimFan85. Christensen looks normal, and dresses cute, save for one bad leather skirt: She mostly hides her crazy in her dead eyes. The message here? Girls who are sexually aggressive are nutcases.

Amy Dunne from Gone Girl

Our current era's finest example of the crazy girl, Amy Dunne first captivated readers of Gillian Flynn's novel before being portrayed by Rosamund Pike in last year's film version. Under Amy's accomplished and beautiful façade lurks the soul of a psychopath who fakes her own death and frames her husband for it in a manner so well-executed that the horror of it hardly detracts from its sheer impressiveness. She is truly the Martha Stewart of do-it-yourself foul play.

Gone Girl emphasizes the intense, unknowable nature of the crazy-girl stereotype: Don't put anything past her! She'll move clear across the country if you so much as flirt with her! She'll fake her own death if it comes to that. Amy is gorgeous, blonde, cool, and by the time she begins her plot, fed up with the many pressures those things bring. Also, her husband is kind of a dick. Can we blame her for using her talent and smarts to get a little revenge? When a girl does something crazy, maybe the full Gone Girl is what guys fear — not a spur-of-the-moment act of violence, but a meticulously planned war of attrition. If you can't handle her at her Gone Girl, fellas, you don't deserve her at her Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.