‘Ruby Sparks’ is good, but is not a gem

Zoe Kazan stars in, and wrote, 'Ruby Sparks'
Zoe Kazan stars in, and wrote, ‘Ruby Sparks’

Ruby Sparks is a new indie film from Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, directors of Little Miss Sunshine.  Working from a script written by Zoe Kazan who also portrays the title character, Dayton and Faris deliver an intriguing tale about a writer and the woman who mysteriously and magically enters his life.

Kazan’s real-life boyfriend, Paul Dano is “Calvin Weir-Fields”, who dropped out of high school and at the tender age of 19 wrote a novel that’s become as major a work as Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye”.  Ten years have passed and while Calvin has written short stories and a novella, he has yet to write the long-awaited follow-up novel.  His agent “Cyrus” (Aasaf Mandvi) is pushing his client as hard as he can to get that next tome out of his mind and onto paper, but Calvin is having trouble writing.

That’s just one of the reasons he is seeing “Dr. Rosenthal” (Elliot Gould).  The one romance in his life, one that lasted five years, went bad some time ago.  He’s had trouble connecting with women since.  He’s also had trouble getting his ideas out of his head.  But suddenly there is something there.  A woman appears in his dreams and he is strangely drawn to her.  So Dr. Rosenthal tells him to write one page about this woman.  After yet another life-like dream, he wakes up and suddenly he’s inspired to the point of pounding his typewriter non-stop.

Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan in 'Ruby Sparks'
Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan in ‘Ruby Sparks’

The result is that he wakes up to find the girl he has created, Ruby Sparks, of Dayton Ohio in his home.  She’s there and she’s real, which he will only admit after it is clear he isn’t the only one seeing her.  Until then he thinks she may well be the female, human version of “Harvey” the famed imaginary rabbit.  Once she is confirmed to exist in his mind, he is instantly smitten.

His brother “Harry” (Chris Messina) is married, has a child and is very grounded in the realities of life.  He doesn’t buy the existence of Ruby until he sees her with his own eyes.  Then suddenly he is enthralled, because not only did Calvin manifest Ruby with his trusty typewriter, he can alter her by writing more.  Typically his first suggestion is “bigger tits”.

Once Ruby is real, Dr. Rosenthal is a thing of the past and this is where it becomes clear that Ruby is truly part and parcel of Calvin.  She knows his innermost secrets and perceived flaws.  She is the only person who seems to understand why Calvin is so bothered anytime anyone calls him a genius and refrains from doing so.  But as they spend time together, she begins to express frustration that her entire life revolves around Calvin and their relationship experiences problems.  What Calvin will do when confronted with these problems is where the film turns.  He said he won’t ever write her again, but when she is unhappy, when she makes him unhappy, the urge to resolve this with a few simple words written on the most recent page of the novel becomes overpowering.

This isn’t the first and won’t be the last film to make use of the “Manic Pixie Girl” trope.  Kazan’s portrayal of such is uneven, very strong in some moments and not so strong in others.  The ultimate resolution of Ruby’s origins is missing, the sequence where Calvin takes her home to meet his mother (Annette Bening) and step-father (Antonio Banderas) felt unreal and as though it was added solely for a bit of comic relief.  What happens at the end is predictable and in the final analysis, unsatisfying.

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