By Don Simpson | July 29, 2012
Directors: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Writer: Zoe Kazan
Starring: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Chris Messina, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, Aasif Mandvi, Steve Coogan, Toni Trucks, Deborah Ann Woll, Elliott Gould, Alia Shawkat, Jane Anne Thomas
Calvin (Paul Dano) is suffering from writers block, which would not be so bad if the rabid fans of his debut work of fiction were not so anxious for him to legitimize his status as literary genius. It has been ten long years since a 19-year-old Calvin took the literary scene by storm; his legions of fans have not forgotten him, but they are growing increasingly impatient.
Calvin has been working with Dr. Rosenthal (Elliott Gould) to snap out of his rut, which seems at least partially rooted in his inability to get over his ex-girlfriend, Saskia (Jane Anne Thomas). Having only one friend — his brother Harry (Chris Messina) — Calvin is painfully shy. Calvin got a dog named Scotty in the hopes of using the oh-so-cute canine as a conversation-starter with women. Unfortunately, Scotty has assumed his owner’s shyness. During one fateful therapy session, Dr. Rosenthal instructs Calvin to go home and write a one page story about someone he meets with Scotty’s assistance. That person is Ruby (Zoe Kazan), a woman who has recently started appearing in Calvin’s dreams. That one psychological homework assignment is the catalyst for the workings of a novel that begins to pour from Calvin’s fingertips.
If you have seen the trailers for Ruby Sparks then you know exactly what happens next; which is unfortunate, because I think Ruby Sparks handles the plot twist well enough that it could be an unexpected surprise to unsuspecting viewers. I will try keeping things rather ambiguous, just in case…
Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’ film goes on to contemplate an author’s desire to create their ideal mate within their writing. It is not the most novel (mind the pun) concept, but they then use this premise to also critique the human desire to find the ideal mate in reality. Thanks in no small part to popular culture, many of us have developed an unrealistic idea of the perfect romantic partner. Of course that person does not really exist; so, once we realize that, we take an alternate route of attempting to mold a real person into that fantasy person. I can tell you from experience, that does not work. Why? Well, would you really want to be in a relationship with someone who is that submissive and needy? Besides, we do not actually know the fantasy person, they are just a combination of superficial traits. They probably look like an actor or musician, and they probably like all of the same things you do; but if this fantasy ever became fleshed out into a real human person with actual feelings and emotions, they would probably no longer be our ideal.
At first glance, Ruby Sparks might seem nauseatingly twee to some, but Zoe Kazan’s script turns this seemingly slight subject into a multi-layered study of the creation of ideals. Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan first appeared as a cinematic couple in Meek’s Cutoff, at which time I thought to myself “in reality, those two actors seem like they would be perfect for each other.” I know nothing about either of them as people, but I would have liked to see Kazan’s Ivy from The Exploding Girl get together with Dano’s Lucas from The Good Heart or Louis from The Extra Man. I guess when finding my fantasy woman did not work out, I took to fabricating relationships in which both people are fantasies. In this case, they have become a couple in real-life, which is kind of weird.