If you could create the partner of your dreams, would you be happy with him or her? Would that relationship be all about you, completely one-sided, and therefore unsatisfying? What makes “Ruby Sparks” so funny, but also harsh and uncomfortable, are answers to those questions given throughout this quirky film. Written by and starring Zoe Kazan as well as the exceptional Paul Dano (also in “Prisoners”, see last week’s movie review), “Ruby Sparks” is directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (of “Little Miss Sunshine” fame).
Calvin (Paul Dano) is a young novelist whose reputation ranks just below that of “The Catcher in the Rye.” Now, a decade later, he is struggling with both writer’s block and a void in his romantic life. Like all writers of fiction who have strong feelings for the characters they write about, as well as an ability to make the character real and worth being interesting, Calvin creates the character of Ruby (Zoe Kazan), his ideal girlfriend, and soon she is no longer a figment of his imagination but created in the flesh, sitting in his apartment. Each time he writes about Ruby, the embodied Ruby has those attributes and behavior, including fluency in French.
The transitions in both Calvin and Ruby’s characters are expertly handled. Mr. Dano’s Calvin combines Woody Allen’s schlemiel and intellect. But as Calvin’s manipulative experiments continue, the film abruptly turns down a dark road: Ruby becomes alternatively manic, needy, independent, masochistically submissive and depressed.
The games reach a feverish pitch when Ruby watches Calvin sitting at his desk, frantically typing instructions about her, which she tries to resist but can’t. Although he is either the Professor to Pygmalion or Geppetto to Pinocchio, Dano’s interpretation of Calvin results in a compelling and riveting performance. He is as much a neurotic, self-absorbed victim as his fictive creation, Ruby, is. The difference is that he is also incredibly amoral and capable of inflicting severe humiliation on Ruby.
“Ruby Sparks” (2012) cannot be easily categorized as comedy or drama, nor is it a rom-com although critics have called this unique movie all of the above. It is, first and foremost, a film about creativity. As in another brilliant movie, “Stranger than Fiction” (2006) (starring Emma Thompson and Will Farrell), the writer of a novel is consumed by the characters he or she creates and they do take on a life of their own. My novel, “Unhealed Wound”, will soon have a life of its own too. I’ll keep you posted as the manuscript goes through its final polishing.