Ruby Sparks

Director: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
Starring: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Chris Messina, Elliott Gould, Annette Bening, and Antonio Banderas.
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox
Runtime: 104 mins. Reviewed in Sep 2012
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: Coarse language, sexual references and drug use

This very unusual film tells the story of a novelist struggling from severe writer’s block, who invents a fictional character that he wills to exist.

Ten years earlier, Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano), who is a self-absorbed, neurotic author living in Los Angeles, wrote a very successful novel at the age of 18, but he has not been able to write anything of comparable quality since. His Psychiatrist (Elliott Gould) sets him a writing assignment to write a page about someone who likes his dog, Scotty. Calvin doesn’t particularly like his dog, and dreams about an attractive young woman, who draws a picture of his dog, and says she likes him.

Calvin begins writing about the woman, who is a product of his imagination. He names her Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan), and he starts to fall in love with her. His brother, Harry (Chris Messina), and his wife find several articles of women’s clothing in his apartment, and the next day Calvin finds Ruby standing in his kitchen preparing his breakfast.

In a movie that is reminiscent of some of the highly imaginative films of Woody Allen, Calvin tests the reality of Ruby, and finds to his dismay that others can see her also, including his brother, his new-age, hippie mother (Annette Bening), and her over-bearing lover (Antonio Banderas). He suddenly realizes that he can make Ruby do anything he wants her to do, just by writing about her. He suggests emotions and moods for her, and their relationship goes up and down, according to how “he” says she feels. Eventually, Calvin writes her out of his novel. Then, Ruby disappears.

Desperately unhappy, Calvin thinks he has lost Ruby forever, and decides to write another book about his experiences with her. After this book is published, he meets Ruby again while walking Scotty in the park. Ruby is enjoying his book, but doesn’t realise that it is about her. The film ends by Ruby making Calvin promise not to tell her how his book ends.

This is a beautifully scripted movie that has a clever plot behind it that sustains its strength through the film. The film is written by Zoe Kazan, who also plays Ruby. Calvin needs recognition, but he needs love and acceptance more, and the intriguing premise of the movie is that he believes he is confronting his problems by creating a dream woman, who does his bidding.

The movie is insightful, thought-provoking, and romantic. It is a fanciful notion that someone can be created, who does whatever is written about them, and Ruby does precisely that. The movie looks superficial on the surface, but it is not so underneath. The performances of both Kazan, as Ruby, and Dano, as Calvin, are on pitch, and very witty. Though playful in its theme, the film has implications that make one seriously stop and think: it is also saying that romantic omnipotence has a definite downside, and routine and automatic compliance will ultimately fail to satisfy personal love. Also, if we could control what others can do, would we be tempted to misuse our ability to do that? Further, the film makes one contemplate the gender pitfalls of constructing male versions of a fantasy woman. The scene where Calvin tests his ability to show Ruby that he can make her a willing puppet to his every whim, pushes Ruby to realise for the first time what he is doing, and Calvin, in tearful desperation, resolves not to “manifest a woman with his mind” any longer. He apologizes for all the words he has written to change Ruby, and types in the message that “she is free”. Insight has finally created freedom for both of them.

This is an ingenious movie that plays creatively with the Pygmalion myth, and it raises a rich array of challenging and provocative issues in a highly entertaining and inventive way.

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