Ruby Sparks-attachment0

Ruby Sparks

Movie Information

The Story: A young writer in a slump — professionally and personally — creates the girl of his dreams in a book, only to find she's real and living with him. The Lowdown: Fanciful and fantastic romantic comedy that manages to explore its premise with thought and unusual wit. Don't overlook this one.
Score:

Genre: Comedy-Drama
Director: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine)
Starring: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Chris Messina, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, Aasif Mandvi, Steve Coogan, Elliott Gould
Rated: R

Ruby Sparks — the second feature from Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris of Little Miss Sunshine fame — is a film of great charm and something more. It’s one of those films for which I didn’t in the least mind showing up for a 9 a.m. press screening. I’d do it again (though a more civilized hour would be preferable). It’s also one of those films with a premise that could so easily have gone wrong and miraculously never does. In fact, I spent most of the picture waiting for it to screw up — and was delighted when it didn’t. It took its fanciful notion of a literary creation that comes to life into darker corners than I expected — and even then avoided every opportunity to paint itself into a corner.And, goodness knows, it has opportunities aplenty to do exactly that.

Paul Dano (who continues to impress me) plays Calvin, a young writer who struck gold — critical and commercial — with his first book, a work written when he was barely out of high school. Yet apart from some short stories, he’s been unable to produce anything substantial ever since. (Are there echoes of the fact that it’s been six years since Dayton and Faris broke into the world of feauture films with Little Miss Sunshine?) His social and romantic life are in much of the same dreadfully neutral state. Judging by his antiseptically white, completely impersonal house — itself a kind of blank sheet of paper — his life has become a vast expanse of nothingness. All that’s about to change though, when his psychiatrist (Elliott Gould) gives him a writing assignment — one that doesn’t have to be good. Through this and a series of dreams, he creates and elaborates on his dream girl, Ruby (Zoe Kazan, who also wrote the screenplay and is Dano’s real life girlfriend). Imagine his surprise — even after some of her personal belongings start mysteriously showing up in his house — when he finds her living with him.

At first, he thinks this is some Harvey-like hallucination. Then he discovers that other people can see her, too. Somehow (and the film wisely never attempts an explanation) he has created his ideal woman — for real. Moreover, he discovers that anything he writes about her immediately manifests itself. The idea, of course, is not exactly new since it dates back to Pygmalion and Galatea. Even Calvin’s eventual and inevitable discovery that this level of control doesn’t make for actual love isn’t much different from John Barrymore’s Svengali realizing that his hypnotic mastery of Trilby’s (Marian Marsh) affections is “only Svengali talking to himself” in the film Svengali (1931). What is different, fresh and unusual is where the film goes with this — not only how far it goes, but how it ultimately affects both Calvin and his creation. That’s what makes Ruby Sparks something rather special.

The film may not be perfect — aspects of the setup start straying into Indie 101 territory — but it overcomes its problems pretty early on. It’s also not likely to be the sensational crowd-pleaser that the overrated (including by me) Little Miss Sunshine was. But all in all, I think this is the better film — stronger, more controlled, less pandering to generic tropes. It’s charming, touching, frequently very funny and thoughtful — qualities you don’t find every day. And qualiies that ought to be treasured. Rated R for language, including some sexual reference, and for some drug use.

 

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

17 thoughts on “Ruby Sparks

  1. Ken Hanke

    Well, I’ve never exactly bought into Mr. Rabin’s notion of that character. I’ve seen it applied both too broadly and too narrowly to convince me of its complete validity. That said, I don’t think that’s even what this movie is up to. I think it’s after something far deeper — the very essence of the worth or lack thereof of any creation without free will. It has as much to do with the nature of artistic works having a life independent of their creators as anything.

  2. Ken Hanke

    It’s at The Carolina starting Friday. For some reason that information doesn’t travel from the print edition to the online one.

  3. luluthebeast

    Almost sounds like the writer got the idea from
    “The Twilight Zone” A WORLD OF HIS OWN episode, written by Richard Matheson.

  4. Ken Hanke

    All of it’s basically a spin on the old Pygmalion and Galatea yarn where an artist’s creation comes to life.

  5. Big Al

    “All of it’s basically a spin on the old…yarn where an artist’s creation comes to life.”

    Maybe, but I felt the real point was not the initial CREATION but rather the lack of a spontaneous, independant spirit, i.e. a SOUL that counts. This lack becomes evidenced when, in the face of adversity and conflict, the creator attempts to change the other rather than change himself or attempt reconciliation or compromise. His brother hints at this reality when he tells of his own conflicts with his family, and as bad as that seemed, their outcome was preferable to the nightmare Calvin experienced when he tried fixing things the “easy” way.

    The ending was a bit trite, maybe predictable, but it made me happy, and with these kind of stories, I prefer happy endings to the psuedo-intellectual downers that so many indie-flicks feel obligated to slap us down with.

    All in all, this tied with “Safety” as my favorites for 2012. “Bourne” was pretty good, too. I am still moping over the disappointments that “Best Exotic marigold Hotel” and “To Rome with Love” were.

    And how in the world did “Best Exotic” stay in both theatres for so long when “Safety..” only lasted two weeks? Unreal.

  6. Ken Hanke

    Maybe, but I felt the real point was not the initial CREATION but rather the lack of a spontaneous, independant spirit, i.e. a SOUL that counts.

    Well, soul is a kind of loaded word, but, yes, the question of a being with free will is central. It, too, is part of most of the earlier tales.

    The ending was a bit trite, maybe predictable, but it made me happy, and with these kind of stories, I prefer happy endings to the psuedo-intellectual downers that so many indie-flicks feel obligated to slap us down with.

    You came to the wrong guy for an argument on this point.

    All in all, this tied with “Safety” as my favorites for 2012. “Bourne” was pretty good, too. I am still moping over the disappointments that “Best Exotic marigold Hotel” and “To Rome with Love” were.

    I haven’t seen Bourne and, honestly, I’m just not that interested in it. I wasn’t disappointed with Best Exotic (though it’s not a film that has really stuck with me) or To Rome, but the former has little to no hope of ending up on my best of 2012 list and the latter — if it ends up there — will hit lower than Safety Not Guaranteed, which is currently tussling with Moonrise Kingdom and possibly Damsels in Distress for top slot at this point. Ruby Sparks I’m not sure about.

    And how in the world did “Best Exotic” stay in both theatres for so long when “Safety..” only lasted two weeks? Unreal.

    Well, actually, Best Exotic didn’t last all this time at the Fine Arts and Safety lasted four weeks. It was in many ways just a victim of timing. It actually did more business its last weekend than the weekend before, but incoming product forced it out. I’m not surprised by the staying power of Best Exotic simply because you can never overestimate the power of Judi Dench with older audiences.

  7. Big Al

    “You came to the wrong guy for an argument on this point.”

    Which point?

    1) that the ending was trite and predictable?

    2) that the happy ending beats typical downer indie-endings?

  8. Woweee. I think I liked this more than MOONRISE KINGDOM, despite the lack of Hank Williams songs.

    That said, I donТt think thatТs even what this movie is up to.

    I would disagree with you there. I think that’s definitely an element. That scene where the brother tells him off for not writing a character that women will want to read about seems aimed at screenwriters who fall back on lazy MPDG characterization, for instance.

  9. Ken Hanke

    The lack of Hank Williams songs is a point in any movie’s favor for me, but this film has not stayed with me, while Moonrise has. As for the other point, you have to accept the concept of the this manic pixie blather for this to work. I think it’s nonsense.

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