Ruby Sparks

2012-10-02 11:01
What it's about:

Calvin, a young writer whose first novel was published to wide acclaim when he was just 19, is in the grips of writer's block as his publisher and expectant readers subtly but effectively pile on the pressure for his second masterpiece. He starts to dream of the perfect woman and feels inspired enough to write about her. Until one morning he wakes up to find that she has come to life - and is living with him.

What we thought:

As a sucker for romantic comedies who often bemoans the rapid creative decline of the genre – while rushing out to watch every new romcom on the big screen anyway – Ruby Sparks is as promising a newcomer as its title suggests.

Written by 29-year-old Zoe Kazan, who also plays the fantastical Ruby Sparks, the movie has some pretty enviable pedigree. If Zoe’s last name rings a little familiar it’s because she is the granddaughter of THE Elia Kazan – writer and theatre director extraordinaire (A Streetcar Named Desire, Death of a Salesman). Calvin is played by Zoe’s real-life boyfriend Paul Dano, who offered quietly devastating supporting roles in There Will Be Blood and Little Miss Sunshine. In fact Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris , the husband-and-wife team behind Little Miss Sunshine, who also direct Ruby Sparks.

The script takes a few notes from 2006’s Stranger Than Fiction, which saw Will Ferrell hear his life being narrated by Emma Thompson, while its romantic notions feel reminiscent of (500) Days of Summer.

Ruby Sparks is a much riskier prospect though, that dares probe the relationship between the artist and his muse in an intimate but nonetheless fascinating scenario. It even asks the viewer to truly believe in magic - and even the potential of their own dreams.

As Ruby literally sparks into Calvin's life out of his imagination, playing the part of alluring and affectionate girlfriend, he is left wondering if he's hallucinating his dream girl and ropes his skeptical older brother Harry (Chris Messina) into the truth of his unbelievable discovery.

Ruby charms everyone she meets, especially Calvin's free-spirited mother (played by Annette Bening) and her sultry, wood carving boyfriend (Antonio Banderas) whom they visit during a particularly damaging weekend away at their idyllic seaside retreat.

Much of what transpires is silly and should not make sense, and doesn’t, but Ruby Sparks stays true to its fantastical premise and doesn’t dwell too much on how Ruby’s presence fits into Calvin’s life story. She is literally a figment of his imagination made flesh and she is everything Calvin ever wanted in a woman – which turns out to be a much greater dilemma than he could have anticipated.

This is where Ruby Sparks really comes into its own, as Ruby, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl ideal is gradually deconstructed within Calvin's fractured creative process. As their romance flourishes Calvin has to abandon his new novel in which she is the central character, while his married brother fills his head with horror stories of what life with the woman he loves is really like. But despite her genesis, Ruby is still a character whose lack of development and independence starts to wear Calvin down, so he constantly takes to his typewriter to tweak and upgrade his girlfriend.

It's a risky idea that could easily veer towards creepy, but there is a sweetness about both Calvin and Ruby that makes you root for them, as unlikely as their relationship is. The humour sneaks up on you and before you know it, their little lie of a life together is as real as you can imagine.

Creating a romantic comedy out of an idea as ambitious as this, one that finds charm in mating Invasions of the Bodysnatchers and The Notebook. It’s kooky and light-hearted enough to make it all work, thanks to the endearing performances from Dano and Kazan.
Ruby Sparks should not work – it can be too cutesy and bewildered to be taken seriously – but it has a true and determined heart beating at its core, making its emotional victories feel genuine and hard-won. A true testament to the confident writing and indie dream casting.

Perhaps the romcom is in a healthier state than Hollywood would have us believe.

An ambitious and endearing romantic tale that dares question the very nature of love as a young writer finds the girl of his dreams, and subject of his new novel, literally come to life.
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nicholas 2012/10/03 6:30 AM
  • Rating:
This is a stanger than fiction knockoff
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