Writers can be so fickle. One day they are in a flow, the next their favorite computer key is ‘backspace.’ Often, their insecurities dominate the creativity, with them thinking most of the time they are not capable of their passion and life pursuit. I admire writers like Stephen King and John Grisham, who seem to have novels published every week. But truth be told, creativity is like sun in autumn–it comes in and out. Some writers deny the existence of writer’s block. They’re liars. I can very much identify with Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano), the self-critical and enervated protagonist of “Ruby Sparks.” He is that writer known for those one or two masterpieces, but now putting words on the page has become a futile exercise. People blindly praise him, envying his creativity and intelligence. Calvin feigns gratitude, and I can just hear him thinking: I’m not great. I’m just lucky. My writing appeals to a vast majority of the ignorant
Calvin’s luck, however, is not with women. He is too busy brooding and mussing his hair while looking down at his typewriter. But he has dreams, one of an adorable and mysterious redhead who seems fascinated, would you know it, by him. Calvin becomes inspired and writes, writes, writes…about her. His business savvy brother Harry (Chris Messina) comments that his writing is good, but he knows nothing about women.
This is what drives “Ruby Sparks”: the cautionary tale of Calvin’s lack of control over his real life. He lives so much in his head that when his dreams become a reality, life is no longer a series of sequences in a novel. But boy, do his dreams come true: one seemingly normal morning, Calvin awakens to find his dream girl, Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan, writer of the film), in his kitchen. It is like she’s always been here. Calvin assumes the worst: he’s officially insane.
Normally, this would be true. Such was the case, along with a drug addiction, with William S. Burroughs when he hallucinated about butt-talking bugs in David Cronenberg’s WTF 1991 film adaptation of “Naked Lunch.” Since “Ruby Sparks” is a 2000s indie romantic comedy, it’s the situation itself that is insane. Like Calvin exclaims, “It’s love! It’s magic!” And so it is–as “Ruby Sparks,” even though it’s not worthy of love, is certainly magical.
Credit goes to Dano, that frazzled, ungainly, and quiver-voiced actor, who bravely costarred (in an underrated performance) with veteran Daniel Day-Lewis in the monumental achievement that is “There Will Be Blood.” In “Ruby Sparks” he embodies Calvin in a way that engagingly invites in our sympathy, rather than overplaying the character till he overdoses on self-deprecation.
Kazan is competent as Sparks, but demonstrates greater gusto with her writing, which is surprisingly accurate with its depiction of men. She gives Dano’s character a darling companion–a dog named Scotty–which allows for a clever scene with Ruby and Calvin, involving why the latter named his pet after a great American novelist, F. Scott Fitzgerald.
The movie was directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who helmed the Oscar-nominated “Little Miss Sunshine”—a good movie, if a little arch. Here they do a reasonable job adding as much sincerity and charm to the fantastical conceit of Kazan’s premise. Their new movie does dwindle in its middle–the scenes with posh novelist Langdon Tharp (Steve Coogan) and Calvin’s mother (Annette Benning) and partner Mort (a zestful Antonio Banderas) serve as forced placeholders for conflict.
But “Ruby Sparks” is delightful, and it mostly stays that way. The ending is a mixed bag; it tries to elbow in the same sentimentality and cathartic release conveyed by the conclusion of the better “500 Days of Summer.” Here, it feels too neat and deprived of that sense of wonder “500 Days” left us with. Still, this is a good comedy, honest towards the frustrating life of a writer. It also bears a worthy statement: when you get the dream girl, she has the tendency to become far too real.
CAST: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Steve Coogan DIRECTORS: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris SCREENWRITER: Zoe Kazan PRODUCERS: Albert Berger, Bart Lipton, Ron Yerxa RUN TIME: 104 minutes MPAA: R
Parker Mott is a Canadian filmmaker and freelance film critic from Toronto, ON. He finds inspiration in the films of Alfred Hitchcock, Paul Thomas Anderson, Martin Scorsese, and Werner Herzog. His favourite films are “Goodfellas”, “Fargo”, and “The Passion of Joan of Arc”. Currently, he is in pre-production for a Kafkaesque film called “Mayfly”, which will be just downright weird.
More of his reviews, essays, and interviews can be found at: http://www.thefinaltake.com/