Film Review: Ruby Sparks (2012)

on Friday, October 12, 2012
'Ruby Sparks' (UK Release: 12 Oct '12) // Words: Alison Potter

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From the team behind 'Little Miss Sunshine' comes 'Ruby Sparks', a film about an awkward literary prodigy called Calvin Weir-Fields, who’s struggling to write a follow-up to his acclaimed first novel. Calvin’s therapist suggests a writing task to help him get over his writer’s block, which leads to invention of Ruby Sparks – the personification of his perfect woman.

This breakthrough opens the floodgates and Calvin is once again creativity energised. But then suddenly Ruby appears, and she’s real, and what’s more he realises that everything he writes about her immediately comes true. With this immense power Calvin tries to resist the urge to interfere, but as soon as Ruby doesn’t start living up to his idealised image, he starts interfering and sets up a chain of events with each proving more cataclysmic than the last.

Rising star Paul Dano plays the romantic lead alongside real life girlfriend Zoe Kazan, who not only plays Ruby Sparks, but in fact wrote the screenplay. As an actual couple, Dano and Kazan’s easy chemistry pops onscreen and it becomes a vital part of the film’s charm and appeal. The duo both put in accomplished performances as the two leads, which in the hands of lesser actors would have made the film much less engaging.

Paul Dano seems to be able to do no wrong, having put in striking turns in 'There Will Be Blood', 'Looper', 'Little Miss Sunshine'. He’s one of those few actors that can be convincingly socially awkward to the point where it’s painful to watch. On the whole Calvin is a deeply unlikeable character, but thanks to Dano’s nuanced performance he’s able to garner sympathy and make this neurotic, self-centred nerd relatable.

Similarly, Zoe Kazan fleshes out the fictional creation of Ruby and succeeds in not only writing, but portraying a complexly realistic female character, which would be a difficult feat for any actress. Her high-energy, incredibly physical performance steals every scene and she essentially becomes the heart of the film. Although initially introduced as Calvin’s dream, she’s one of the film’s most relatable characters, due in no small part to the humanistic qualities Zoe brings to the role of Ruby.

Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Chris Messina

Ruby Sparks also has an absolutely superb supporting cast. Chris Messina plays Calvin’s brother Harry, who functions as the audience’s voice in the film. Every member of the cast throws themselves fearlessly into their roles - Steve Coogan plays a convincingly pompous, cretinous letch; Annette Bening is his New Age mother Gertrude; and a scene-stealing, enthusiastically-nuts Antonio Banderas crops up as her bohemian, sexually-liberated lover. Everyone looks like they’re having the time of their lives making the film and this buoyant energy comes across when you’re watching it.

If there’s one glaring problem with the script it’s that in reality, if the option to control your girlfriend was open to most men, it would take a predictably sexual direction. But this is an indie romantic comedy, not a porn film, and Calvin’s motivations are much more complex and cerebral – Whereas Harry’s first thought is: “For men everywhere, you’ve got to take advantage of this.”

'Ruby Sparks' might star a real-life couple, but it’s another romantic pairing who are essentially the driving force behind the film. Married film-making team Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who were responsible for co-directing 'Little Miss Sunshine', are the directors that bring the film to life.

The duo realise Zoe Kazan’s ambitious script and help to ground the fantasy narrative in a much-needed Los Angeles reality. They take us through the journey of Calvin and Ruby’s relationship, which like real life is awkward, embarrassing, giddy, intoxicating, devastating and ultimately heartbreaking.

Exploring the idea of magical realism and the fantasy involved in falling in love with someone, Ruby Sparks is an ultimately misogynistic idea that’s been penned by a woman. So instead of the male protagonist’s sexualised desires coming true, what we see is a battle of wills and an exploration into the theme of control within relationships.

Clearly set for big things, Zoe Kazan is an undeniable writing and acting talent. There are many things wrong with 'Ruby Sparks', but its fresh and innovative screenwriting and convincing leads make it a good watch. Though a warning for those that are easily annoyed by ‘quirkiness’ - you might find it a little too painful to sit through this eccentric indie romantic comedy.


'Ruby Sparks' is out in UK cinemas, through Fox Searchlight.

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