Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
Ruby Sparks is a refreshingly smart romantic comedy.
Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano, The Girl Next Door) is a writer still riding high on the success of a book he wrote 10 years ago. He was 19 at the time, a high school dropout, and the author of a New York Times bestseller.
Aside from that success, though, Calvin’s life is a mess. He dreams about meeting a girl and simply talking with her for hours on end; as his brother points out, Calvin doesn’t even get any action in his dreams. Adding to his dysfunction and image issues, Calvin’s heartless girlfriend left him after his father died and his boy dog pees like a girl. It’s all enough to send the guy into therapy.
His therapist (Elliott Gould, Capricorn One), wants him to write something, anything. The worse it is the better.
And so Calvin sits down behind his old-school Olympia DeLuxe typewriter and with the godlike power of creation hailing from Mount Olympus, Ruby Sparks is born. She’s a 26-year-old free spirit hailing from Dayton, Ohio (because it sounds romantic). She’s the kind of naïve idealist who became depressed when she found out one of her idols, John Lennon, was already dead. She’s the type who digs older men (she dated a 49-year-old) and she’s so flighty she forgets to pay her bills.
Funny how, all of a sudden, panties and feminine hygiene products start appearing in Calvin’s apartment.
The Wizard of Sparks
The premise of a girl coming to life and fulfilling the wishes and whims of her writer/creator is far-fetched, but that’s just the surface storyline. This story shouldn’t be taken literally; writer/star Zoe Kazan (It’s Complicated) has some devilish fun with the premise, but there’s a big heart beating behind the story and a sweet message to complete the confection. As an added bonus, Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson are nowhere to be found.
As the characters interact and develop in Ruby Sparks, the story relies less on formula and instead follows its own bliss.
Calvin’s brother, Harry (Chris Messina, Julie & Julia), serves as a foil and the voice of pure male reason. He advises Calvin that quirky, messy girls whose problems make them endearing aren’t real. He should know; he’s married and he loves his wife but – heck – she’s a woman and she’s a weirdo. And Harry knows he could lose his wife if she’s not treated right.
Harry advises Calvin to take advantage of his unique situation for the benefit of all mankind, but he wonders if his brother is effectively committing incest. Or would that be “mindcest”?
Calvin has finally found true love… and all the complications that entails quickly follow suit.
Jealousy, possessiveness, freedom, joy, angst; all those things that define what it is to be in a relationship are pulled apart, examined, and put back together in Kazan’s surprising, deft, and effectively touching screenplay.
A Family Affair
While the heart of the story revolves around Calvin and Ruby, Kazan has populated Calvin’s world with a great ensemble of supporting characters. Elliott Gould’s in fine form as Calvin’s therapist, but Annette Bening (American Beauty) and Antonio Banderas (Evita) are scene stealers as Calvin’s mom and step-father. Over the years, Calvin’s mom has turned into the end game of that free-spirited nature flowing within Ruby. She’s a hippie chick married to a master woodworker who’s built his house with wood blessed by the Amish and bricks from a Catholic church.
Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas
Photo: Fox Searchlight
For a brief spell, everything seems hunky-dory for Calvin. Then Ruby starts to stray and Calvin takes to the typewriter for some creative writing and character tweaking. He rewrites her as a clingy girl, one who misses him even when he’s sitting right by her; switching her to effervescent joy incarnate, she’s over the top and just as hard to handle.
As Calvin begins to exert more creative control over his girlfriend, a nagging question returns to the fore: Is she real?
Ultimately, that particular question doesn’t really matter, although Kazan throws enough bread crumbs out there to lead to a very human, earthbound explanation. Ruby Sparks is really about the magical power of writing, the magic of relationships, the magic of movies, and the magic of falling in love.
With shades of Woody Allen – early Woody Allen, the more consistently funny early Woody Allen who would psychoanalyze himself during the course of his own movie creations – Kazan displays a whole lot of smarts with her characters, the dialogue, and the themes that breathe life into the movie. Considering so many romantic comedies fall flat and feel hollow, Ruby Sparks is in its own right a magical experience.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.