Ruby Sparks Review
by Laurie Coker
Writing offers me a release. While I am over half way through a mystery novel, write film critiques, create poetry and dabble in other genres, I can’t completely seem to find my muse or my niche. I admire those who do. Perhaps someday I will, but until then… . Anyway, apparently Zoe Kazan has found hers, and we see it fleshed out in Ruby Sparks, a delightfully intelligent film, starring Paul Dano and Kazan, about a boy and the girl he creates in the pages of a book and who magically inhabits his world. It is not a new concept, but from writer Kazan, we are afforded a whimsical twist on finding true love and the lengths one unwittingly goes to destroy it.
When the film opens we meet surprisingly young, genius novelist Calvin (Dano) only he suffers from writer’s block when attempting his sophomore novel. However, because of something his therapist (Elliott Gould) says, Calvin begins to type (yes, on an old typewriter) out a tale about the girl of his dreams. Ironically, his creation ends up standing in his kitchen – yes, a fully realized, three dimensional, complete with memories, live girl, Ruby (Kazan). First Calvin is convinced he is losing his mind, but then he realizes others can see her too. With his older brother Harry‘s (Chris Messina) support, he happily begins a relationship with the fictional but extremely endearing Ruby Sparks.
Dano certainly is not the typical leading man, but his notable awkwardness is precisely why he is perfect as Calvin. He fumbles and bumbles through his uncomfortable place in life anyway, so when he finds he can control his love life – by controlling Ruby (at one point he, with fingers striking keys, commands her speak fluent French) he feels more in control of his world as a whole. Kazan is a talent both behind the pen and in front of the camera and her Ruby impresses. She writes Ruby with a wide range of emotion, demanding a great deal from Kazan the actress, and she is exceptional – moving from clingy cry-baby to pinging-off-the wall manic and nearly everything in between.
Truly Kazan’s clever script deserves accolades, even if she did write it for herself. Kazan’s concept is neatly uncluttered and, with directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (the husband and wife team of Little Miss Sunshine) calling the shots, she creates a film that successfully comments on the hazards of romantic love, looking at the themes that make us all a bit crazy in our relationships. Edging on typical rom-com only occasionally, Kazan’s story looks at the dark, deeper trappings of relationships and the attention is in her details – Calvin using a typewriter, his sparsely decorated, stark apartment, Ruby’s flaming red hair and eclectic clothing, the dog, Harry’s life in contrast, sessions with the therapist, and so on. Kazan’s telling is riddled with metaphorical references and subtle nuances of the underpinnings of love and how we humans can mess it up.
I found Ruby Sparks refreshing even with its confusing R rating. What could have been stranger than fiction (*wink *wink), turns out to be a thoughtful, insightful look at romance – one that provokes self-exploration and one that also simply entertains. The cast, which includes veterans Annette Benning (Calvin’s free-loving and living mother) and Antonio Banderas (her artsy love interest), Messina and Gould, and particularly Kazan and Dano take Kazan’s crafty, charming script and create something better than fiction. It earns an A from me.