Ruby Sparks (2012)
October 18, 2012 1 Comment
Desperate to recreate his past success — a renowned novel that has since seen him labelled a genius — struggling author Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) is given a writing assignment by his beardy therapist (Elliott Gould). Dreaming of an attractive young woman who takes it upon herself to sketch Calvin’s dog, Scotty, he finds the inspiration necessary to finally start writing again. Several pages into the assignment — which has become the basis for his next novel — Calvin finds himself standing face-to-face with Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan), the woman from his dreams and the protagonist of his new book. Having already fallen in love with her, Calvin enters into a relation with Ruby, much to the disbelief of his older brother (Chris Messina), who doesn’t understand why Calvin hasn’t ironed out her flaws through his writing.
While authors being tormented by their own creations is nothing new in fiction (earlier this month something along similar lines happened in Sinister), it is slightly less common that they should fall in love. Reminiscent at times of Stranger Than Fiction, Ruby Sparks begins as a decent-enough comedy that manages to avoid Zooey Deschanel-levels of kooky while still delivering cuteness and quirks. After all, Ruby might be the figment of someone’s imagination, but then so too is typewriting Calvin, his girly dog and his hippyish parents. If you think about it.
For the first half an hour or so, the set-up proves very promising indeed, with Dano’s relationship with Gould’s Dr. Rosenthal giving way to many of the film’s — and trailer’s — finest moments. Dano is just the right mix of inept and inspired, fluttering around his colourless condo as he uncovers inexplicable items of womenswear in unexpected places between fruitless hours in front of his typewriter. When Ruby finally materialises, she tips Calvin over the edge as he contemplates the very real possibility that he has finally lost his mind. They are two very strong performances, and whatever comes next, they just about hold it all together.
The problems start as Calvin begins to introduce Ruby to his various friends and family, in particular to those that don’t know the full story. What is really a very interesting little drama is then spread a little thin over an underwritten ensemble. Rival author Langdon Tharp (Steve Coogan) and ex-girlfriend Lisa (Deborah Ann Woll) serve only the token last-act contrivance, while Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas struggle helplessly to make their roles — as Calvin’s fickle mother and bohemian step-father — anything other than insufferable. Little Miss Sunshine directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris have had some experience with unlikely characters, but even they cannot make the film’s second act work.
By this point, Calvin has inevitably taken to altering Ruby’s personality, causing great unexpected changes in her mood. It’s clear that Kazan, as the film’s writer, is trying to comment on the acting process, and how performers are expected to bring words to life in almost every day of their working lives; even when they’re just doing publicity, actors and actresses are trying to maintain some sort of public image. But she isn’t always successful. As an actress, however, she is never anything but entirely convincing. It’s just that the film is never quite funny or disturbing enough to make much of a lasting impression.
Unfortunately, this becomes a real problem towards the very end of the film, when a misjudged ending casts doubts on everything that has happened before. Worse, it leaves you with myriad questions about the characters’ futures, none of which have any conceivable answer. In the end, it sullies a film that isn’t remarkable enough elsewhere to compensate. Sweet, amusing and willing to take the premise to its natural conclusion, Ruby Sparks really should have just left it there.