Ruby Sparks plays a lot of theoretical games with relationships, and one of the best is the one going on behind the scenes, because it bleeds through into something tangible, which becomes its own clever delivery of what the movie is ultimately after.
The movie stars its writer, Zoe Kazan, as Ruby Sparks, the “magical” creation of writer Calvin Weir-Fields, played by Zoe’s real-life partner Paul Dano. It is also directed by real-life couple Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine). You may wonder about the extent to which such chemistry can actually alter the final product, but we have our answer here.
Calvin leads an odd life, even by odd standards, and worst of all… he’s a writer. Worse still, he’s a successful one, or at least he was. Now pushing 30, Calvin wrote the next great American novel at 19. He hasn’t done much since, and the fact that he’s something of a recluse is, apart from familiar sounding, not especially conducive to inspiration. He really only has contact with his brother (Chris Messina) and his therapist (Elliot Gould), and all they ever talk about is whether or not he’s writing. Throw in his agent, and his life is completely consumed by a paralyzing focus on the fact that, no, he isn’t writing anything.
He has a dream about a girl one night, and he starts writing about her. She’s fascinating, and when questioned by his therapist, we learn that he’s putting together an extremely detailed character, and falling in love with her. In one of the film’s best moments, Calvin puts it to his therapist that he thinks he’s really losing it, because he can’t fall in love with a character he created, to which he gets the reply, “Why not?”
That’s the question, because as Calvin continues to write, his dog starts showing up with women’s shoes and underwear, until finally Ruby simply appears before him, believing that she is in a relationship with him, and totally oblivious to the fact that she isn’t real. The spin on whether we can, should, or do fall in love with products of our imagination, though moved quickly past in the film, is just one of the myriad pushing points the film offers up, and it’s amazing the answers that come to mind during the swirl of dizzying questions.
After Calvin gets past the fact that Ruby is real, or “real,” or whatever, which involves a test trip out into public, he convinces his brother to come over so that he can prove that he created her just by typing. Now the real fun begins. He’s actually got his dream girl creation, and now he has to figure out what to do with her.
While unforgiving in its blatant metaphor, the film, largely because of its light approach, nevertheless manages to pull a surprising depth out of the obvious. We know where this is going, and when the honeymoon is over, there isn’t a lot of surprise involved, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that the movie doesn’t have a lot to say. Moreover, it manages to say things that are tricky to say from a “normal” framework, and it says them well.
Calvin “finds” his perfect woman, but he soon learns that life doesn’t end there. You still have to live together, and life still goes on. You may have created her such that she was girlfriend, but that doesn’t mean she’s going to keep thinking whatever thoughts led her there. Of course, Calvin has a fix. He can just write that she’s happy, and she will be. The cute trick of the film is the way in which it delivers the reality of that very unreal aspect of their relationship.
From the curious, unacknowledged control partners have over each other, to the maddening fact that the characteristics that often draw us to someone have their consequences, Ruby Sparks dives into relationships with a fresh honesty that is hard to imagine without something that leans heavily toward science-fiction. And yet, much of it is actually all-too normal, including the adventures with Calvin’s mother (Annette Bening) and step-father (Antonio Banderas) which highlight the discomfort that comes with hoping to fuse diverse personalities. Possibly best, in the cacophony of voices and attitudes, is simply the fact that now that Calvin has his dream girl, what he seems most, is rather bored.
In the end, it’s a clever little play on life, and one that (if we can analyze it with writing parlance) is more well-parsed than we would expect from Zoe Kazan (simply by way of her age). It is also overflowing with feel of a Dayton/Faris venture, at times quite reminiscent of Little Miss Sunshine, at least in its conversational abilities.
The real rub of the thing, and you wouldn’t get this bit to work from 100 other writers or directors, is that every story of how to people meet is fairly crazy… and they’re all exactly the same.
- Ruby Sparks [Blu-ray] (cinemablend.com)
- ‘Ruby Sparks’ Sparks with Originality (Review) (popmatters.com)
- Ruby Sparks (thefilmlounge.net)
- Ruby Sparks (15) (morningstaronline.co.uk)
- Ruby Sparks Blu-Ray Review (Kirk Haviland) (entertainmentmaven.com)