[Review] – Ruby Sparks

18 Aug

Title: Ruby Sparks
Year: 2012
Directors: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
Writer: Zoe Kazan
Starring: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Antonio Banderas, Annette Bening, Steve Coogan, Elliott Gould, Chris Messina, Alia Shawkat, Deborah Ann Woll
MPAA Rating: R, language including some sexual references, and for some drug use
Runtime: 104 min
IMDb Rating: 7.0
Rotten Tomatoes: 79%
Metacritic: 66

Man, was I excited to get to watch Ruby Sparks. Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris are the husband and wife directing team that made their names in the industry directing music videos for the likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Smashing Pumpkins, something that eventually got them to make their first feature back in 2006. That film ended up being the sublime Little Miss Sunshine, which won a couple of Oscars and became that year’s indie darling, and a film that I personally truly love.

So interest was huge as for what they would follow that one up with, rumors started percolating that they were working on an adaptation of Tom Perrotta‘s The Abstinence Teacher, but then that got delayed, and their next film ended up being Ruby Sparks, which we’re getting just now, six years after their debut. The film is written by actress Zoe Kazan, who also stars here alongside her boyfriend Paul Dano (who starred in Little Miss Sunshine) and a slew of terrific actors that include Annette Bening and Steve Coogan.

The second I found out this film was coming up I was totally psyched for it, because of the directors and because of the actors involved, and then when I finally got to watch a trailer for it some four months or so ago, I was just totally sold that this was going to be the kind of movie I would seriously love. You have Mr. Dano playing Calvin, a young novelist that got some real success early into his career, publishing a huge bestseller at the tender age of 18, when he wasn’t really thinking about earning his living as a writer, and the pressure off which has caused a huge writer’s block to come upon him, a struggle’s also present in his romantic life of late.

Then one day Calvin gets struck by the Muse, which in this case is Ruby Sparks, a character that comes to him and that inspires him to get writing like he hadn’t in a while, putting to ink this dream girl he had come up with. And that’s all fantastic until he finds out that his dreams have become a reality, as he then finds Ruby, in the flesh, just sitting there on his couch, the girl he’s writing about having turned into a very real person. It’s kind of Stranger than Fiction by-way-of Charlie Kaufman, and it’s just so much fun, how these obvious quirky indie elements are combined with very real characters and emotions in Ms. Kazan’s script.

The script, as charming and quirky and sincerely heartfelt as it is, never once really delves into just how exactly the whole general conceit works with Ruby coming suddenly alive. And that’s okay that it doesn’t bother itself with it, because doing so would probably get the film to get tangled in itself and display a plot hole or two, and because the movie is just feel-good and charming and honest that you never once think about it, so they can really make do without an explanation. This film with this plot could have actually been quite bad, but this screenplay as acted out by this cast as directed by Mr. Dayton and Ms. Faris just hits its marks with absolute perfection, definitely making it one of the best movies I’ve seen in all of 2012.

The cast, by the way, really is a big reason as to why this movie works so damn well. Yes, the stuff that matters most is that between Calvin and Ruby, but to have Annette Bening as Calvin’s mother, Antonio Banderas as the lover to said mother, and Steve Coogan as the literary agent who’s been waiting for Calvin’s ten-year writer’s-block to pass is a true advantage. Yes, they don’t do much to further the plot, but they’re fun, well-written and well-acted, and they keep you distracted from asking questions about the specifics of the predicament you’re watching unfold.

Yes, if Calvin doesn’t like something about Ruby he can just go back to his typewriter and write it off and inset a more desirable trait, literally designing, word-for-word, his dream girl. And you may then think that you’ll know exactly how every scene will play out, but trust me when I say you don’t. Because it’s not as easy as that, to play God like Calvin can, and it gets to the point in which he starts trying to hold off any additional rewriters so that he can start experiencing a real relationship with Ruby, with all of its ups and downs; it’s just wickedly smart how Ms. Kazan has chosen to structure this whole thing.

It’s really a pretty neat questionm the one that Ruby Sparks presents. I mean, we have all probably thought, in one way or another, what it would be like to be in Calvin’s position, and be able to truly dictate how our dream mate would behave. But this film asks us if that would really be enough to quench our desires, or if cheapening the chase would actually be worse. It’s terrific how the film entertains those questions, because even though the film has this kooky and quirky kind of tone, the way it approaches those psychologically deeper questions is more than enough for it to remain grounded in reality.

Mr. Dano is pitch-perfect as the anxious Woody Allen-lite Calvin, and Ms. Kazan wrote a role for herself that she probably knew she could knock out of the park as well as she does here. Plus, their chemistry on screen is just absolutely magnificent, and it shows that they’re in a relationship in real-life. I applaud this film like crazy, it’s not perfect like the other one that came from this team of directors, but at least it’s just super smart in its humor, and it’s expertly written and acted, and not once does it pretend to be more than it really is. Certainly one of the year’s highlights.

Grade: A

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