Genre : Comedy, Fantasy, Romance
Directed by : Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris
Starring : Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas
The idea of a writer wrestling with the blank page or suffering from writer’s block is not a particularly original concept; it’s the narrative basis of various films, one of the most recent being Limitless, and it has even been the basis for the fantastic Showtime series Californication. Nonetheless it is something we have all seen before, so you would be forgiven for finding the opening to Ruby Sparks all to familiar.
Our protagonist Calvin is an old-fashioned, boring type living alone in a barely decorated apartment and spending his days staring at the blank page loaded into his typewriter. If he’s not doing that he’s complaining to his shrink about his inability to write or being shown-up at the gym by his brother. Thankfully, Calvin’s battle with block is broken when he dreams of a girl who he names Ruby that he begins to write about day and night, forever falling more in love with this dream girl he has created in his head. Then, one morning, Calvin goes downstairs to find Ruby in his kitchen. Having established that he really has managed to somehow manifest his dream girl out of his mind and into reality, Calvin begins a relationship with Ruby. But, will a relationship with his dream girl be everything he ever wanted?
What’s so fascinating about Ruby Sparks is that for such an unbelievable premise, you walk out feeling you have sat through an astonishingly realistic tale of relationships. The narrative is clever in never explaining why Ruby appears; Calvin initially thinks he’s crazy and that only he can see Ruby, a thought his brother also shares up until the moment he sees her too. Unable to explain it the characters accept it and so do you, allowing the narrative to shift it’s focus; we watch as Calvin enjoys the honeymoon period with the girl of his dreams only for him to realize that he has to work for a relationship, even with a girl who was originally a figment of his imagination.
The feeling of realism is helped by the fantastic performances from the stellar cast. Paul Dano is brilliant as the lonely lead; he’s charismatic as the writer trying to determine just how crazy he is, detestable as the guy who both takes his relationship for granted and uses his power (an ability to make Ruby do whatever he wants by typing it) to control it and heartbreaking as the tragic character who realises this dream relationship may not last forever.
Meanwhile, the bulk of the film’s comedy is delivered by Calvin’s family; one of those classic indie-film families that as an audience member you want to be a part of. Chris Messina is instantly likeable as Calvin’s socially superior older brother, a character cleverly drawn as being seemingly there to provide the jokes, but who is made more identifiable through the fears he harbors of his own relationship. As the boy’s parents, Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas have a ball in scenes that are so genuinely funny they balance the drama and emotion running through the film’s protagonist. Banderas’s attempts to impersonate Calvin’s dog Scotty being a memorable hilarious highlight.
Yet the majority of the film’s praise must go to Zoe Kazan. It takes real talent to bring so much depth and humanity to a character that is entirely fictional, but Kazan manages it effortlessly in the enigmatic title role. But it is as the films writer that Kazan truly excels; her depiction of relationships feels fresh and honest, something that is ironically missing from most relationship dramas. She’s clever at touching upon an issue that every man wants, that one morning you wake up to find the girl of your dreams in your kitchen, and she’s admirable in showing the harsh reality that said girl may not be the right one for you – something that can make you do wildly uncharacteristic things when you are as much of a loner as Calvin is.
Fresh, funny, heart-felt and (considering the plot) based firmly in reality, Ruby Sparks is one of, if not the best comedy drama of the year and probably the most honest mainstream film to deal with relationships since 500 Days (of Summer). Moreover in Zoe Kazan we have an emerging star with real talent; as an actress and a writer, Kazan really is nothing short of superb.