Magazine article Variety

Ruby Sparks

Magazine article Variety

Ruby Sparks

Article excerpt


Ruby Sparks

By Justin Chang

The word becomes flesh in "Ruby Sparks," an engaging if only fitfully realized fantasy about a novelist who falls so desperately in love with his latest character that he wills her into existence. Starting off in fanciful romantic-comedy territory, Zoe Kazan's screenplay flirts with dark, neurotic notions concerning the male tendency to idealize/control women, a clever conceit that ultimately resolves itself along overly smooth, therapeutic lines. Deftly performed by leads Paul Dano and Kazan, this long-awaited sophomore feature from helmers Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris wont post "Little Miss Sunshine" numbers but should conjure respectable smarthouse biz.

Broadly described, the script's loopy premise recalls everything from a classic "Twilight Zone" episode (1960's "A World of His Own") to 2006's "Stranger Than Fiction." Considered in terms of its themes, specifically the agonies of artistic creation and chronic male insecurity, it suggests something Woody Allen might have dreamed up with Charlie Kaufman, even if it's less moment-to-moment inventive than that talent combo implies. Certainly it's hard not to think of Allen when confronted with Calvin WeirFields (Dano), a shy, bespectacled Los Angeles-based novelist who's just a few tics short of a nebbish.

Having made the mistake of writing a literary sensation at a young age, twentysomething Calvin is having trouble with his follow-up effort, a struggle that recently cost him a long-term relationship. With little company except for a dog that shares his self-esteem issues, he takes the advice of a shrink (Elliott Gould) and tries an off-thecuff writing exercise. Using an oldfashioned manual typewriter that turns out to be all too necessary for plot purposes, he pounds out a detailed outline for a character whose name, Ruby Sparks, seems equally inspired by her dark red hair and her radiant personality.

Smitten with his protagonist, a quirky, free-spirited painter with unconventional taste in men, Calvin shows the manuscript to his brother, Harry (Chris Messina), who responds with brutal honesty: "You haven't written a person." Harry turns out to be dead wrong, as Calvin discovers when he comes face-to-face with Ruby (Kazan) in his kitchen the next morning. He may be a good writer, but he didn't know he was that good.

Outlandish as this development is, the script puts it across in disarmingly funny and romantic fashion. Entirely unaware that she's someone's intellectual/psychological construct, Ruby presents herself as Calvin's adoring g.f., and once his shock wears off, he happily accepts this state of affairs. Like any other person, Ruby can walk, talk, eat, sleep, make love and lose her temper. Yet while she seems capable of exercising her free will, her actions and moods are ultimately dictated by whatever her creator-lover writes about her, something Calvin naively vows he won't use to his advantage.

The ideas being grappled with here are so transparent, they barely qualify as subtextlf Ruby embodies an elusive feminine ideal, she also represents that much-desired creative alchemy that occurs when a fictional character takes on a life of its own. Certainly she seems more three-dimensional than Calvin's artist mother (Annette Bening), who Uves in bohemian bliss with her avant-garde-furnituremaking lover (a grizzled Antonio Banderas), as seen in an extended comic centerpiece that signals the onset of Calvin and Ruby's relational woes. …

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