Thursday, 13 September 2012
FILM REVIEW: RUBY SPARKS
20th Century Fox Films
As any writer will tell you, there is nothing scarier than a blank computer screen. Or, in the case of Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano), a blank piece of paper (a typewriter being this young author's writing tool of choice). But if there is one thing more terrifying to this one-time wunderkind now struggling to write his sophomore novel, it's the possibility of love.
And in Ruby Sparks, directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris' first film since the Oscar-nominated Little Miss Sunshine (2006), Calvin inadvertently kills two birds with one stone: his nocturnal dreams of the ideal young woman firing his creative juices whilst simultaneously willing her into existence.
The eponymous Ruby (Zoe Kazan) materializes one day in Calvin's apartment and he understandably freaks out, thinking he may have finally lost his mind (an occurrence which wouldn't come as a total surprise to his therapist, played by Elliott Gould).
But Ruby is indeed real, and exactly how Calvin imagined/wished/created her to be: red haired, soft featured, pixie-like and devoted. Calvin's brother Harry (an excellent Chris Messina) thinks his kid brother has hit the jackpot: a woman whom he has complete control over, mind, body and soul. You can make her speak French, why not give her bigger breasts, Harry asks.
But with great literary power comes certain responsibilities, and Calvin is happy to let Ruby be "herself" for as long as they're both happy. It's when Ruby starts to think she may want a life outside of Calvin's that cracks begin to appear in the idyllic relationship he has created.
Ruby Sparks, penned by its leading lady, Kazan, is a conceit that one could easily see working as a Woody Allen comedy. Indeed, there is a terrific scene between Dano and Messina, upon their realization of what exactly is going on, that is very Allen-esque. (Note to Woody: Dano, but especially Messina, deserve your attention.)
There are also shades of both the 1980s comedy Mannequin, where a department store clothes dummy comes to life at the touch of Andrew McCarthy's window dresser, and the recent Lars and the Real Girl (2007), where Ryan Gosling, struggling to relate to real women, sends away for and shacks-up with a sex doll.
Like that latter film (and unlike Woody), Dayton, Faris and Kazan aren't afraid to explore the darker themes at play in the ostensibly magic realist-high concept screenplay: men's often unrealistic expectations of women; the toxic nature of co-dependent relationships; and what happens when the honeymoon period cools and fantasy finally gives way to reality?
Kazan knows that love, like art, doesn't come easy and there are plenty of dark clouds amid the sunshine of Ruby Sparks. You could dismiss it as a fabulist's rom-com for hipsters but then you'd be missing the point. You'd also be missing out.