Looking Back: Ruby Sparks

Everyone dreams of their perfect partner.  Romantics call them their soulmate.  Cynics call them non-existent.  So what do you do if you are lonely? Take a lesson from John Hughes’ Weird Science and create someone. Ruby Sparks is the second feature film project by husband-wife directorial team Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, six years after their successful Sundance debut Little Miss Sunshine (2006), and is the screenwriting debut of happythankyoumoreplease‘s Zoe Kazan.

Struggling novelist Calvin (Paul Dano) is lonely, socially awkward and suffering from writer’s block.  After the success of his first novel he wrote ten years before, he cannot seem to find inspiration for the much-anticipated follow-up project.  After a session with his therapist, he dreams of a girl and soon finds himself writing about her, calling her ‘Ruby Sparks’.  However, things become complicated when Ruby (portrayed by Dano’s real-life girlfriend, Kazan) unexpectedly comes to life and the two enter a relationship.  It doesn’t take long for the imperfections to surface from a girl who is perfect…on paper.

Ruby Sparks highlights the difficulties of being in a relationship and the dependence that can grow between two people.  Whether it is one-sided or something that is mutual, the film serves as a reminder that even these things are not always slush and romance; there is a point that even the most perfect relationship can be, at times, far from perfect.

Thank God for the pseudo reality check (can I call it that?) – The awkwardly prude Calvin comes across as insecure and almost desperate, but thanks to Dano, he is able to bring out a sense of empathy as his loneliness and need for be loved becomes a very relatable feeling – it isn’t rom-com predictable, but rom-com bittersweet and it is something that hides a darker side to Calvin and his somewhat obsessive need for Ruby.

Scattered comical touches are provided by Calvin’s brother (Chris Messina), as well as their tree-loving mother and tree-destroying stepdad (Annette Benning and Antonio Banderas), thanks to the perfectly paced script by Kazan, whose quirky Ruby can range from the gigglesome to the heartbreakingly disturbing – especially when the relationship leads to an emotionally charged scene, which she and Dano portray perfectly.

It may have taken them six years to get behind the camera but maybe Dayton and Faris were waiting for the right follow-up project.  With their indie style accompanying Kazan’s words, they are able to immediately engage the viewer in Calvin’s world, and it becomes hard not to get caught-up in this sharp and sweet offering. Ruby Sparks is funny, sweet and emotional – just like the eponymous character.  Great performances from its ensemble cast with extra credit to Kazan for writing a rom-com with hearts and smarts.

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