Film Review: Ruby Sparks Asks Bold Questions About the Controlling Impulse in Relationships

20 Aug

Zoe Kazan and Paul Dano in Ruby Sparks

In Ruby Sparks, Paul Dano plays Calvin, a neurotic novelist whose best-selling first book was such a success that it has induced in him a chronic case of writer’s block. One night he becomes inspired to begin writing about a beautiful girl he has seen in his dreams. He writes a quirky, whimsical female character full of unrestrained life and names her Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan). Soon he has fallen in love with his own creation and becomes more and more obsessed until one day, he discovers Ruby in his house, fully in the flesh and bustling away in his kitchen. But unlike the love affair in Lars and the Real Girl, Calvin’s relationship with his muse is not merely in his mind. In this perfectly toned “eureka” moment, shown in the trailer, Calvin realizes that everyone else can see and interact with Ruby: “She’s real.” Calvin is astonished — and utterly thrilled.

And so is the audience. Perhaps because they are a real-life couple, Kazan and Dano have wonderful on-screen chemistry as the film takes this set-up and runs with it, fully capitalizing on the comedy inherent in its premise. One of the greatest things about this film, though, is its unpredictability. Too many films, from rom-coms to action thrillers, follow a well-worn storyline. But with Ruby Sparks, there comes a moment, after the film’s first act, when you realize that you have absolutely no idea where the film is going to go from there.

Then it goes to an even more interesting place, as it starts to carry through on not only the comedic but also the more complicated implications of its premise – a man has created his ideal woman, and he can make her do, and feel, anything he wants. As Calvin begins to learn, Ruby is indeed “real,” but not only in the sense that she can speak, dance, play arcade games, and cook. The ideal woman is also a real person, and the difference between these two things is key to the most unexpected and riveting movements of the plot.

The film’s only flaws are a couple of scenes as Calvin and Ruby visit the home of his mother (Annette Bening) and step-father (Antonio Banderas). These scenes are integral to the development of Calvin’s character, and many in the audience will be excited to see Bening and Banderas in these odd roles, but their characters need to be more clearly realized.

Directed by husband-and-wife team Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who also directed Little Miss Sunshine, this is the first produced screenplay by Zoe Kazan. It seems surprising that she has produced such a moving script for her freshman effort, until you consider who she is. Granddaughter of Elia Kazan (who directed such classics as On the Waterfrontand A Streetcar Named Desire), she is also the daughter of two Oscar-nominated screenwriters, Nicholas Kazan (Reversal of Fortune) and Robin Swicord (The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button). Ruby Sparks is good enough to make one wonder whether great story-telling may be genetic.

The film is playing now in select cities in the U.S. and will see an expanded American release this Friday.

Final Verdict:   Asking some very bold questions about the controlling impulse in relationships, Ruby Sparks is just the kind of smart, dynamic film you’d expect to come from the directors of Little Miss Sunshine.



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