What an ultra-cool surprise Ruby Sparks was! I expected this film to be a run-of-the-mill romantic comedy; and it certainly has plenty of love and laughs, but I assert that at its root this wonderful film is a science-fiction tale that is very much akin to Frankenstein – albeit with a much more attractive monster.
Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood) plays Calvin Weir-Fields, a young author who peaked early and has been plagued with writers block ever since his first & only book was published. He’s lonely, eccentric, frustrated, insecure and anti-social; and often consults a psychologist (Elliott Gould) who challenges him to intentionally write something bad – just to get him writing something.
Calvin takes the doctor’s advice and begins writing about a woman that he has been dreaming about. She is attractive, quirky, smart and witty – everything he wants in a companion; and the more he writes about her, the more obsessed and in love he becomes with this character he has named Ruby.
One morning his perfect fictional woman appears in person at his home, cooking breakfast in his kitchen; and Calvin is certain he has finally lost his mind. That is until his brother and others can also see Ruby Sparks and actually interact with the woman as well.
Ruby is as charming as Calvin had imagined and she is in love with him in all the same ways he had written her. She is so perfect that he swears never to change her in any way and locks away his manuscript about her.
Time passes and everything is wonderful as Calvin starts to enjoy his life again with his new loving partner, but after a while Ruby starts to feel stagnant and Calvin resents her efforts to grow and have a life outside of her devotion to him. The strain eventually starts to drive the pair apart and Calvin reneges on his promise and resorts to adjusting her character in his story.
The author’s continued tweaks to Ruby’s personality eventually turn her into a mindless-monster and this light-hearted fantasy takes a turn for the serious. This is a multi-layered film that touches on themes including controlling relationships, the vulnerability of true love, the nature of creativity and the difficulties of writing.
Known for his off-kilter characters, Paul Dano is the perfect “Dr. Frankenstein” of this piece and delivers an incredible performance as the sympathetic “mad-scientist” author, Calvin Weir-Fields. The cast of this film also contains Annette Bening as Calvin’s hippie Mom, Antonio Banderas as his Mom’s boyfriend and Steve Coogan as his friend and fellow writer.
But the truly amazing person behind this movie is Zoe Kazan as Ruby Sparks. Not only does she shine as Ruby, but this 28 year old actress also wrote and produced this awesome film – which is as intelligent, fun and thought-provoking as any movie you are likely to see this year. Ms. Kazan is as smart, beautiful and captivating a character as could be written in a fantasy – but she is the real deal.
This film is directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who also helmed the cinematic gem, Little Miss Sunshine; and Ruby Sparks is similar in terms of its tone, being both silly and deadly serious. To capture that perfect balance is as difficult as creating the perfect person, but this directorial pair does a fantastic job of making it happen.
Ruby Sparks had the potential to be just another Weird Science style of film and Calvin’s brother Harry (Chris Messina) tries to push the story in that direction (thankfully , to no avail.) But the Ruby Sparks narrative sticks to its guns and provides a mature and masterful story that is a pleasure to watch. Grade: 8/10