Ruby Sparks (2012)
Director: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Writer: Zoe Kazan
Starring: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Antonio Banderas, Annette Bening, Steve Coogan, Elliott Gould
Country: United States
Language: English, French
MPAA Rating: R
Time: 104 minutes
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Romance
USA Release: 7/25/2012 (Limited)
On DVD (USA): 10/30/2012
Writing can be form of magic, so can falling in love, but what about falling in love with the person you write? With that control how would you write them? Would you ever change them, to be happier, maybe less annoying? Well that is just the basis for the film “Ruby Sparks” written by Elia Kazan’s granddaughter Zoe Kazan who also plays the title character.
“Ruby Sparks” tells the impossible story of love, magic and the beauty of writing. Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) is a young novelist still living off the success of his first novel that he wrote ten years ago at the age of 19. Currently he is struggling with writer’s block as he tries to write something of the same quality of his last book. While talking to his therapist, Dr. Rosenthal (Elliott Gould) it is assigned to him to just write about someone who likes his dog, Scotty, who is a very shy. Later that night as Calvin is sleeping he is again visited by an attractive young woman in his dreams, as they meet and talk, she draws a picture of Scotty, showing her affection towards the dog, this sends Calvin shooting up from his bed and sprinting to his typewriter. With this new found inspiration, Calvin can not stop writing, and as he writes about the girl he soon names ‘Ruby Sparks’ he begins to realize that he is falling in love with her. Even though that sudden realization makes him think he is loosing his mind, he still continues to write about her. But when Ruby (Zoe Kazan) suddenly appears, it’s only then that he believes his imagination has gone overboard.
The basis for this film alone is enough to have you running to the nearest theater to watch it. But after you do see it you see that it’s much more than a story of possible fictional love. It’s real true love, the kind that is messy, where mistakes are made, yet however far down the rabbit hole if you love someone, there is a way out. Within twenty minutes of the film I knew that writer, Zoe Kazan had penned a beautiful, and intelligent debut script. This isn’t too surprising seeing as she is the granddaughter of legendary director Elia Kazan, who directed such classics as “A Streetcar Named Desire”, Baby Doll” and “A Face in the Crowd”. While the story changes tonally over the course of the film, it’s never in a negative way, it cleanly and confidently strides its way from comedy to a little bit of a drama and even somewhere in between. It’s always rare to hear the words brilliant or fascinating tagged along side anything that is labeled with the words comedy, drama, and romance, because much of the time they are actually awful. But it’s films like “Ruby Sparks”, “(500) Days of Summer” and “Beginners” that help prove there are gems among that triple genre.
This summer has bought out some great, interesting concepts like a romance that brews over the question of time travel in “Safety Not Guaranteed“, or how sleeping with your best friend’s sister can be far more complicated than you’d ever imagined in “Your Sister’s Sister“. These concepts prove that although the art of film making has been around for 100 plus years there are still original stories to be told and “Ruby Sparks” is another to add to the list. And while I found myself thinking and liking a somewhat deeper concept to the film “Stranger Than Fiction” (which is also another brilliant film, by the way) it’s the emotions that begin to come out the farther we go into the story. Kazan’s script touches on real relationships and how it’s not always going to be they way you want it, and taking too much control has it’s consequences. Although some things are sidestepped a bit like how exactly Calvin is able to have Ruby appear, but that is beside the point as it’s said in the film that it’s just magic. Because this is a fantasy type of film, things can be skipped because the focus is on Calvin and Ruby, not just how she came to be. It’s their relationship, if you can call it that at times, that is the story, and also deals with basic morals, to control or not to control that is the question that rears it’s ugly head under the surface. I mean what would you do if you had that power?
Moving on though, the directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris who also directed “Little Miss Sunshine” back in 2006 (also their feature film debut) have done it again with “Ruby Sparks”. This husband and wife duo capture the quirky magic that is a must for a story like this, you know it wouldn’t work if Ruby wasn’t quirky, she’d be too boring, same goes from Calvin. They picked some gorgeous locations as well, the streets of what I assume is L.A. or somewhere near, work well for showing Ruby’s creative side. Also Calvin’s bright and spacious house, along with Calvin’s mother’s nature (or as some might say “Hippy”) home, show the beauty of being eccentric. But it’s what the directors capture between our two leads that is the magic of the film. Not only do they capture the electricity that can form between two people when they first meet, but they transition so smoothly when things start to take a turn with the couple. While in the beginning Calvin uses his “powers” for what he thinks is Ruby’ benefit, as the film progresses we see a change in him that can be taken as manipulative, and the directors do a great job at keeping it all tied together without anything tonally or otherwise falling over the edge.
Even with the directors capturing the magic between the two leads, it’s their personal chemistry that really sells the realize inside this fantasy like film. While some leads can just have good chemistry together like how Matt Damon and Emily Blunt did in last year’s “The Adjustment Bureau“, Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan are more like another legendary couple with chemistry Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, and what I mean by that is that Dano and Kazan are actually a couple in real life. Because of that, it seems they have an advantage of making the on screen relationship look so effortless even in the worst of times. Even while at each other throats in the film, if any one else was cast opposite of either one of them, the film would not have been as fantastic. Even looking at them individually, they are both wonderful actors, and show some range in not only this film but their careers so far. Although Kazan is given more extreme emotions to work with, having to jump from being super depressed to out of this world joy in almost the same scene, it’s along with Dano’s madness that show the differences that might separate the two forever.
As for the rest of the cast that included Antonio Banderas, Annette Bening, Steve Coogan, Elliott Gould, and Chris Messina, they all do their best with the roles they have. Especially those like Coogan and Gould who only have a couple of scenes in the film, they deliver good performances, Gould as Calvin’s therapist is the one that helps Calvin start writing again by giving him the assignment in the first place. For Banderas and Bening, they are just along for the ride, getting to play hippies. And since Banderas is Spanish it’s relatively easy for him to sell being laid back, where as Bening completely transforms herself into the role, her character not only looked but reminded me of Mimi Kennedy’s role as Dharma’s (Jenna Elfman) mother on “Dharma & Greg”. But it’s Messina that ties everything together as Calvin’s brother. He not only gets to deliver some great comedy when he thinks Calvin is crazy, but even when he sees that Ruby is real it’s the advice that he gives Calvin that will have you loving his role.
Overall “Ruby Sparks” is a rare film to find, with it’s genuine original script about falling in love and it’s wonderfully compatible leads, there is nothing to stop you enjoying this film. While it may get over looked, it’s a film I would highly recommended to anyone that is a fan of films like “(500) Days of Summer”. It’s a gem of a film, like finding a popsicle on a hot summer afternoon, a sweet retreat.