Today’s movie, Ruby Sparks, takes a somewhat familiar fantastic fictional premise, then twists it up by taking things in an unexpectedly real, though also familiar direction. What makes the film stand out is some bold writing, and a memorable acting performance both by Zoe Kazan.
Paul Dano stars as Calvin Weir-Fields, a writer who’s been labeled a genius after having penned a massively successful critically-acclaimed bestseller when he was nineteen. Unfortunately, he’s been afflicted by writer’s block ever since. One day, spurred on by an assignment from his shrink to write a page about a stranger who likes his pet dog, Calvin dreams of, and then begins to write about an idealized woman, Ruby Sparks (Kazan). Calvin quickly becomes inspired by this new fictional muse, and his short story rapidly begins to grow into his next novel. Ruby is beautiful, quirky, and just damaged enough to be interesting to the cynical Calvin. She’s also completely enamored with the “fictional” protagonist of the novel that just happens to be named “Calvin”.
The real twist happens when one day Calvin awakes to find Ruby in his house, in the flesh, cooking him breakfast. This is all the more astonishing because he isn’t imagining her. Other people can see and talk to her, and she has no idea that she’s a creation of Calvin’s imagination.
While this premise is could be straight out of a male fantasy movie like Weird Science, this movie instead takes a different tack, and sets about what happens when Calvin tries to have a real relationship with, literally, the woman of his dreams.
Of course, reality isn’t a dream, and when their relationship hits some bumps in the road, Calvin is tempted to use his power as her author to make some tweaks to Ruby’s character. This all leads-up to a surprisingly powerful and somewhat dark climax. However, the film resolves the situation surprisingly well and ends with a nicely satisfying conclusion.
While there are some decent supporting characters in this film, (including Antonio Banderas as Calvin’s free-spirited stepfather, but not including the normally entertaining Steve Coogan who’s needlesly annoying in a small role,) the film is really all about the two leads. Calvin Weir-Fields is, generally, the type of character that really dislike; the successful sad-sack that doesn’t appreciate how good he’s got it. He spends a good portion of the film moping around. That’s a gripe about the character, and I’m pretty sure he’s supposed to be somewhat unlikable, just as Ruby’s more than a little unrealistic.
However, the performances by Dano, and especially by Kazan are fantastic. While I didn’t particularly like Dano’s Calvin, I did believe in the character. Meanwhile, the real life of the film is Kazan’s titular character. The character seems to present a real challenge, having to be simultaneously a real person, and an imaginary ideal of a woman. On top of that, she’s got to be able to deliver the massive character swings that Ruby goes thorough as the film progresses. Of course, as the writer of the piece, Kazan really only has herself to blame for this. Fortunately for the viewer, she really nails it.
At the end of the day Ruby Sparks is an entertaining and imaginative way to spend ninety minutes. Unfortunately its running time is just over a hundred minutes. And yes, by this I mean to say that it drags a little bit in the middle, but not too badly. I’ll definitely forgive a little bit of plodding in exchange for a creative idea that’s well executed. However, even if I ignore this quibble over pacing, the balance of the film isn’t quite good enough to merit “must see” status, but it is well worth seeing.