Ruby Sparks

ruby-sparksRuby Sparks is a brilliant 2012 romantic fantasy. Both a comedy and a drama, it never falls into the genre of romantic comedy, but blazes its own original, fantastic trail.  Written by Zoe Kazan and directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the film has a single, organic arc that shoots into the sky like a brilliant firework, ultimately exploding into fragments that all make perfect sense.

Young writer Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) has tasted success early. His first novel is now considered a modern classic.  Since its publication, he has struggled to write a follow-up, instead publishing short stories and a novella.  Worshiped by adoring fans, he has retreated into his house and placed himself under the care of a psychiatrist, Dr. Rosenthal (Elliott Gould) who advised him to get a dog (Scotty) to help with his loneliness.  He takes Scotty for walks and works out with his brother Harry (Chris Messina), but he just can’t write that next novel.

After Calvin complains that Scotty is afraid of people and pees like a girl, Dr. Rosenthal gives him a writing assignment: to write something about someone who might like Scotty. Calvin dreams of meeting a beautiful, enchanting girl, Ruby Sparks (Kazan), and then begins to create her on the page.  The more he writes her, the more he falls in love with her.  While visiting Calvin, Harry and his wife, Susie (Toni Trucks), discover women’s underwear in his house, but Calvin thinks that Scotty must have dragged them in.  He shows Harry his draft about Ruby, but Harry thinks that the character is too idealized, not realistic enough to be a real woman.

With a sizable manuscript in hand, Calvin is ready to bring it to his agent when suddenly Ruby appears in his kitchen. The underwear is hers and she believes she has been living with him for some time.  Calvin freaks out and thinks he is going insane, but no matter what he does Ruby is still there and totally perplexed about his behavior.  She follows him into public where he is meeting a young fan, Mabel (Alia Shawkat), who wants to bed him.  Ruby sees them and gets terribly upset.  When Mabel apologizes to Ruby, Calvin realizes that he is not the only one who can see and hear her.

Harry thinks that Calvin is having an episode until Calvin brings him home and he actually meets Ruby in person, but he still can’t believe that Calvin has written her into existence. They go up to his office and writes, “Ruby speaks French.”  Immediately, of course, Ruby begins speaking French to them.  Harry thinks that Calvin should use this to his advantage, say by giving her bigger boobs, but Calvin decides to stop writing Ruby and start living her.  He gives up his control over her.

At first, they are very happy, but when Calvin’s mother invites them up for a weekend at Big Sur, he tries to get out of it. Ruby, worried that he doesn’t want her to meet his family, gets depressed and finally Calvin relents.  His mother, Gertrude (Annette Bening) is a free spirit and her boyfriend Mort (Antonio Banderas) is a wood sculptor.  Calvin is in rebellion against their free-wheeling lifestyle and spends most of the weekend reading while Ruby has fun and makes friends with his family.  He is jealous and resentful.

Ruby begins to resist the way they live, the way he keeps her closeted away from others, and wants to have a life of her own, so he encourages her to take an art class, but he is jealous of her being in any part of the world but his. He has become dependent on her and is now powerless to control her.  When she becomes deeply depressed, he finally returns to his typewriter and makes her more cheerful.  This begins a series of edits where he tries over and over to make her into the perfect woman she was at the beginning and kicks the movie to a whole new level.

Kazan’s script is so original and creative that it alone carries the movie, but her performance as Ruby is at the heart of its comedy. Her Ruby is so lovable that one identifies with Calvin completely.  His desires and frustrations seem so real that the film takes on a level of drama underneath the comedy that pushes it forward relentlessly.  Dano gives a striking performance as Calvin and he keys the drama.

Part of the charm of this movie is the behind the scenes relationship. Dano and Kazan were a couple long before she wrote the script and she wrote it with him in mind to play Calvin, so the script was tailored to the two of them.  Also, the directors, Dayton and Faris, are a couple and have been longtime friends with Dano and Kazan, ever since they did Little Miss Sunshine with Dano in 2006.  Without the participation of these four, the film may not have been nearly as successful as it is.

Movies like this don’t come along very often. Creative, funny, dramatic, original, with great performances by an ideal cast, Ruby Sparks should be seen by everyone!

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