By Dirk Sonniksen | August 3, 2012
Director(s): Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Writer(s): Zoe Kazan (screenplay)
Starring: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Chris Messina, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, Aasif Mandvi, Steve Coogan, Deborah Ann Woll, Elliott Gould
Calvin (Paul Dano) is a young author whose first (and only) book was a huge success. He has a seemingly great life: a stylish pad, women fawning over him, and a reputation as the next great author of our time. Calvin’s publisher, Cyrus (Aasif Mandvi), is calling but Calvin has little inspiration for another book and he’s also lost his girlfriend, Lila (Deborah Ann Woll). Calvin’s dreams of a woman begin to take shape in the form of his next novel. To Calvin’s amazement, his main character, Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan) comes to life. While Ruby is no longer merely a figment of his imagination, Calvin does pull the strings with results that will turn his idea of the perfect woman on its head.
Ruby Sparks is, for the most part, being touted as a romantic comedy. Regarding the comedic element, Ruby Sparks didn’t particularly tickle my funny bone. The comedy was hackneyed and had a very recycled Hollywood feel to it. Chris Messina plays Calvin’s brother Harry, and while Messina is brought in as some of the comedic firepower, it fails, due mainly to jokes and situations that take aim at Harry’s stereotypical, over-inflated male ego. Harry’s chauvinist persona does level out through the film, which ultimately places him in the redemption character column of the film.
Ruby Sparks fares much better as a romantic film, or more importantly, a film regarding relationships, not only with others, but with one’s inward relationship. Like his brother Harry, Calvin’s initial take on Ruby is somewhat chauvinistic, but it doesn’t last long. In a sense, Calvin has created his ideal woman, but no matter how Calvin writes her into the story, she presents Calvin with more problems, but these problems are stepping stones (hopefully) to Calvin understanding himself. The conflict pushes Ruby away, but also help to bring her into focus. The push and pull within Calvin’s mind regarding Ruby is the beauty of the film, with all of the internal conflict causing Ruby to morph into another version of Calvin.
Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan did excellent work in Ruby Sparks, and as it was written by Kazan, it’s no surprise she had a firm grasp on her character, and that of the other actors as well. Pual Dano is splendid as an author that has so much at a young age, but is ultimately not quite as mature as his audience might believe. Kazan’s Ruby is striking because she combines the naïve elements of Calvin with his dark underbelly in a very convincing manner. Essentially, Kazan is playing two characters as she is not just Ruby, but she is also Calvin manifested in Ruby.
Ruby Sparks works because Kazan has written a great script. Kazan gives us characters that are fleshed out, so that the audience can render an initial representation that is more than simply scene-by-scene dialogue. Not that we are given a final analysis, nor should we. Instead we are left to come up with our own conclusions, a thought process that has been all but eliminated from most films. Though the rather cliché comedic take left some blank spaces in the film, they were filled in by a strong premise that left the imagination to wonder a bit through the psyche of Calvin, and through his own imagination, he is able to tinker with his inner thoughts…for better or for worse.