A film review by Craig J. Koban September 11, 2012
2012, R, 104 mins.
2012, R, 104 mins.
Calvin: Paul Dano /
Ruby: Zoe Kazan /
Mort: Antonio Banderas /
Gertrude: Annette Bening /
Langdon: Steve Coogan /
Dr. Rosenthal: Elliott Gould /
Harry: Chris Messina
RUBY SPARKS has far more thematic ambition than most other romcoms. It certainly is an obligatory love story, to be sure, but not in the literal or conventional sense at all. It’s more purely a fantasy love story in the essence that it concerns a somewhat creatively stymied writer that has dreams of his “perfect” woman, writes about her, and then finds her miraculously materializing before his eyes as he writes about her. She displays every solitary characteristic trait that he has described in his prose, and even when he spontaneously types something down in terms of new behaviors for her on his trusty old typewriter, she immediately displays the very same quirks.
genius of RUBY SPARKS - beyond its agreeably peculiar premise – is
that it’s more deeply invested in so many other compelling elements
beyond the standard accouterments of the romcom genre:
It’s a meditation on the creative process; the paralyzing
insecurity that arrives with writer’s block; a bitter examination of the
damning nature of male desire and the fragility of the inflated male ego;
and a metaphor for how men sometimes enter into relationships with the
best of intentions and then become obsessive control freaks.
And, yes, it does deal with how real love in life
works. Oftentimes, you
fall head over heels for someone because you feel that they are identical to you in every conceivable ways, but the key to staying in love is to
mutually grow to discover and later accept your inherent and respective
(Paul Dano, in one of his most believably lived-in and emotionally
vulnerable performances) plays Calvin, a twentysomething and
once prodigious author who made a real name for himself with his first
published work in his late teens, but is now facing crippling writer’s block.
Worse yet is that he's introverted and uninterested in spending
anytime with anyone from the outside world, with the possible exception of
his brother (Chris Messina) and his therapist (Elliot Gould).
He has one loving relationship…with his dog…and even with that
he is somewhat negligent. When
he’s not begrudgingly engaging in Q&A programs discussing his first
and most famous work, he secludes himself in his antiseptic white walled
apartment. He still is
interested in women, I guess, but seems less encouraged by perusing
relationships with them, seeing as most are more interested in his
celebrity status as a writer than they are for him as a human being.
alas, still looks for love, but like most nitpicky and shortsighted men,
love of the self-imposed “perfect kind.”
He begins to have dreams of his ideal woman, who is named Ruby Sparks.
From there, he begins to write a novel about Ruby and finds himself so
taken in with her that he desperately yearns for her to be real.
It is at this point where the film gets…a little weird.
Without warning one day, Ruby (Zoe Kazan) instantaneously
appears in Calvin’s apartment, which immediately leads to him thinking
that’s he's hallucinating. Yet, when he goes out in public everyone else around him does
see Ruby as well, which curtails any thoughts crossing through Calvin’s mind
that he’s nuttier than a fruitcake, but it still nonetheless does not
help to explain how she came to be. All
Calvin knows is that his dream woman is real and adores him back.
What possibly could go wrong with this situation?
lot, which is why RUBY SPARKS slowly segues from its initial fairy tale
quirkiness to something more decidedly dark and chilling.
At first, Calvin and Ruby are happy, content, and hypnotically in
love. Yet, slowly but surely,
the façade of their hopelessly idealistic relationship begins to wane
when Calvin realizes that their perfect love is imperfect because she’s
a product of his imagination. Even though she appears flesh and blood with a myriad of
feelings, Ruby is a persona that Calvin concocted. When her mood or disposition
changes in undesirably ways, Calvin sits down and gleefully types out a new set
of behavioral qualities for her to have, which begins to seriously
backfire in unwanted ways. The
more he methodically and rebelliously changes who Ruby is, the less desirous
she becomes to him.
SPARKS was written by its star, Kazan – granddaughter of Elia – and
her first screenplay is uncommonly intriguing, intelligent,
thoughtful, and cheerfully void of Hollywood genre pretensions.
I find it fascinating that a woman wrote a film like this focusing
male perspective about how one a man conjures up his idyllic vision of a
woman and is forced - like Victor Frankenstein before him - to deal with
his “creation” run amok. She
seems to have her finger on the pulse of what makes many men tick, from
their narcissism to their insecurities to their loneliness and, more
importantly, to their incessant desire to be a domineering puppet master
in relationships as a form of emotional compensation.
Even more intoxicating is how Kazan’s script serves as a metaphor
and damning testimony to the ways that many romantic comedies of the past
and present – many written by men – have fabricated female characters that are
more black and white plot devices of lazy convenience.
The way Calvin dutifully types away and writes a new path for Ruby
to facilitate his needs has eerie echoes to how many contemporary film
not to say that Kazan’s script is anti-male.
No, Calvin – for all of his twisted manipulations – is really
more of a wounded and hapless man that gets in over his head than he is a
despicable and hurtful person. The 28-year-old Dano – who looks like a skinny, baby-faced,
semi-dweeby, and dopey eyed Christian Bale – is perfectly cast as Calvin and
convincingly encapsulates a flawed adult mind that still sees women from
the mindset of an adolescent; he has an understated manner of harnessing
his role’s inherent pathos and humor.
He works marvelously with Kazan (his real life girlfriend) who
perhaps has the trickiest assignment of playing a make-believe woman that
feels believable at every turn and then is forced to convey wild,
alarming, and bipolar mood swings as a result of Calvin trying to change
her for the better.
RUBY SPARKS marks a wonderful sophomore effort of directors Jonathon Dayton and Valerie Faris, who previously made the critical adored (especially by me) six-year-old indie-darling LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE. Like that film, RUBY SPARKS reveals the husband and wife filmmaking duo as one that understands the finer and more problematic intricacies of human behavior while framing that within a story that’s quirky, funny, touching, magical and speaks to sophisticated truths and takes many unpredictable narrative detours. RUBY SPARKS is the most inventive romcom to be released since (500) DAYS OF SUMMER, and even though they are fairly dissimilar, both films take novel approaches in dissecting what it means for young, impressionable, and naïve men to succumb to the elation of falling in love and then later crash hard when dealing with ill-timed hardships that can either hold up or capsize relationships.