#1  
Old 08-10-2012, 05:52 PM
Jonathan Dayton's and Valerie Faris's Ruby Sparks

Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:

http://www.examiner.com/article/movi...ew-ruby-sparks



http://www.examiner.com/article/movi...ew-ruby-sparks

Ruby Sparks (2012)

“Ruby Sparks” is a fun, quirky dramedy that actually starts off as a bit of an examination of the difficulties of the writing process before switching gears to become a bizarre, yet engrossing, fantasy. On top of all that, it manages to be a romance that explores how hard it can be to fine-tune a relationship even when you have complete control over every little thing your partner does and feels. This is a lot for any film to handle, and yet, somehow “Ruby Sparks” is able to encompass it all.

Calvin (Paul Dano) is a young, struggling writer, who has had one successful novel. He’s followed it up with short stories and novellas, but has yet to come up with anything big since his original book. He constantly visits his psychiatrist, Dr. Rosenthal (Elliott Gould), who suggests that he write a page about someone liking his dog, despite the dog being shy. That night, Calvin has a dream about a woman who likes his dog, which inspires him to start writing again, except this is more than just one simple page.

After he starts writing, strange things begin to happen such as random feminine articles showing up around his home. This is eventually followed by the woman from his dream, Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan). He is understandably in shock at this occurrence, but upon discovering that other people can see her, including his brother Harry (Chris Messina), he decides to pursue a relationship with her. Calvin finds that she is the perfect girlfriend, but he also discovers that he has the power to make her do anything he wants just by typing it on his typewriter, a power he finds rather tempting when things don’t go exactly as he wants.

For many authors, writing is a difficult process, especially when they’re as judgmental of themselves as Calvin is. He tells us near the beginning of the film that he would come up with ideas that he thinks are fantastic, only to think that they’re the worst ideas ever a short time later. Having all of that pressure from his one major success certainly isn’t helping him out. What he needs is a muse, some form of inspiration, which he is lucky enough to receive in his dreams.

Some screenwriters would be satisfied with this as their premise, but Zoe Kazan, who is mainly known as an actress, takes it even further when she turns it into a fantasy. It’s not exactly the kind of fantasy you might think of when you hear the word as it’s still based in reality, just with the strange little event of Calvin bringing the woman of his dreams to life. How or why this happens is never explained, which is probably the right thing to do as that most likely would have been too much of a distraction from the actual story.

Despite the fantastical element, Kazan is able to make this into a touching romantic story about how hard it can be to get a relationship right. Calvin has complete control, but still has difficulty making things perfect for Ruby and himself. When he originally writes about her, she seems perfect, but when things start going badly, he tries to fix it by rewriting, which causes her to be far too clingy. Further rewrites, including trying to say that she’s her old self again, merely continue to make things worse. Like Calvin, Kazan must have learned how hard writing and rewriting can be in order to get something like this to work.

The film is handled very well by the two leads. Paul Dano is somewhat of an understated actor. People tend to forget how great his performance was in “There Will Be Blood” due to being overshadowed by Daniel Day-Lewis, but he is more than able to hold his own. For “Ruby Sparks,” he has to go through a whole gamut of emotions from being neurotic and disillusioned at the beginning to a bizarre mixture through the middle up to the end, all of which he pulls off marvelously. As for Ruby herself, who better to play her than the person who understands the story the most? Kazan has to go through several rapid changes as Calvin rewrites her character, but she rises to the occasion quite well.

The film was directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the same pair that brought us the quirky “Little Miss Sunshine” (which also starred Dano) in 2006. “Ruby Sparks” is a strange film, but it manages to be quite captivating at times as it’s hard to tell what will happen next as Calvin continues to try to “fix” Ruby to be just the way he wants her. With merely her first screenplay, Kazan has fashioned an odd, yet interesting film that reminds us that relationships are never easy, even when you think you have complete control over them. 3/4 stars.
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