Calvin (Paul Dano) is a young novelist who achieved phenomenal success early in his career but is now struggling with his writing - as well as his romantic life. Absence of it, that is. Finally, he makes a breakthrough and creates a character named Ruby who inspires him. When Calvin finds Ruby (Zoe Kazan), in the flesh, sitting on his couch about a week later, he is amazed that his words have turned into a living, breathing person. His brother Harry (Chris Messina) and his psychiatrist (Elliot Gould) find it difficult to believe him. And as his relationship with Ruby flowers, Calvin becomes obsessed.
Review by Louise Keller:
He can't even get laid in his dreams - until he meets Ruby Sparks, the dream girl he has concocted in his mind and articulated through the keys and ink of his Olympia typewriter. Zoe Kazan, who plays the seductive figment of Paul Dano's imagination, has written an endearing screenplay in whose daring concept the lines of fiction and real life are blurred, the incredible becomes credible. When she first appears, he thinks he is dreaming, before discovering the truth behind the old adage 'Be Careful What You Wish For'. There's a sprinkling of magic in this charming film in which romance and power-play rub shoulders.
When we first meet Calvin Weir-Fields (Dano), successful author who is plainly uncomfortable with his success, he is walking his scruffy little dog, Scotty. The dog is his shrink's idea (Dr Rosenthal, perfectly played by Elliot Gould), offering Calvin the chance to meet people as he walks the dog. But Scotty pees like a girl and has not turned out to be the ideal people magnet. Hence evolves Dr Rosenthal's idea for Calvin to write a page about someone who likes Scotty - just the way he is. Calvin's fingers quickly start typing: Ruby is a complicated redhead artist from Ohio.
The way that Calvin's fiction turns into reality is beautifully realised. Obsessed by the character he has created, he cannot wait to rush to his typewriter to be with her again. Like the blank page and bland life in which he exists, Calvin's apartment is clinical and white - until a few physical items appear: a red bra, a pair of panties, before Ruby herself appears, ready to whip up some eggs in the kitchen.
I love the scenes in which Calvin proves to himself that Ruby is real: sitting in an outdoor café trying to ignore Ruby, imagining she is invisible to everyone except himself. The scenes with Calvin's brother Harry (Chris Messina) are fun - especially when Calvin proves he can make Ruby do anything he wants - if he types it on the page. There is also an amiable distraction when Calvin takes Ruby home to meet mother (Annette Bening as a new-age mother, living with furniture sculptor played by Antonio Banderas.)
But what does Calvin do with his creation and new found power? Does love run smoothly with a happily ever after ending? And what of Calvin's writing? Should his manuscript about Ruby remain under lock and key? Or does the temptation get too much when the relationship flounders, like in a lovely scene with Steve Coogan tempting Ruby into the swimming pool at night in her underwear? Calvin's ex-girlfriend Lila (Deborah Ann Woll) also has a few home truths to reveal.
Both leads are delightful with Dano exuding the essence of a neurotic writer locked away in his own world while Kazan is spontaneous, effervescent and lovable as the puppet-esque dream girl who has been written to order.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Expectations are high for a romantic comedy with a strong streak of magic realism; we want to be immersed and transported by the magic, while grounded by the realism. We want it both ways, and movies can deliver that. Ruby Sparks is a tempting idea, although not entirely original, in which an author's created character materialises in the flesh. But it requires exceptional finesse to work this magic on screen.
Zoe Kazan stars as her own creation, Ruby, which is not necessarily a negative, and Kazan has a certain screen appeal. For one thing, she isn't your typical romantic comedy princess, her charm derived more from her being a spirited girl next door than a beauty; she is real and we like it that way. Likewise the talented Paul Dano as Calvin the author, a nerdy figure who isn't so sure of himself. We can imagine a young Woody Allen in the role ... These are assets for the film, in that they allow us to connect readily with both; even though Calvin is something of a literary star, he is insecure and shy.
The performances are great: both Dano and Kazan are interesting as well as mostly sympathetic, and they convey emotions beautifully. All the key supports are also excellent, Chris Messina and Elliott Gould in top form, as is Steve Coogan as a predatory literary sleaze.
The problems are in the writing and directing. The screenplay introduces Ruby at the very beginning, a mistake I think; we'd prefer meeting her as a revelation, just as it is for Calvin. And when she appears in his life, it is too manufactured, with Calvin's brother and his wife discovering women's underwear in Calvin's drawer. These clunky scenes early in the film signal a miscarriage of judgement that continues to hamper the film.
The other problem in the screenplay is its lack of imagination, oddly enough, which is demonstrated by repetition of the central idea - instead of a satisfactory development of it. Only in the final act is there sufficient tension to generate some dynamic, when the playful aspects - like meeting Calvin's divorced hippie mother (Annette Bening) and her furniture making boyfriend (Antonio Banderas) - wear out. Bening and Banderas are bountiful in their cameos, but it's a distraction, rather than an addition.
What we ultimately want to care about is Calvin's relationship with his invention and what happens when the truth is revealed. How does this fantasy end? These questions are answered but without the emotive power we crave.
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RUBY SPARKS (M)
CAST: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Chris Messina, Antonio Banderas, Annette Bening, Steve Coogan, Elliott Gould, Aasif Mandvi, Toni Trucks, Deborah Ann Woll, Alia Shawkat, Jane Anne Thomas
PRODUCER: Albert Berger, Ron Yerxa
DIRECTOR: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
SCRIPT: Zoe Kazan
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Matthew Libatique
EDITOR: Pamela Martin
MUSIC: Nick Urata
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Judy Becker
RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 20, 2012
RIVERSIDE SNEAK PEEK PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 4 consecutive Tuesdays - March 10, 17, 24, 31, 2015 - at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.