Review: Ruby Sparks ★★★★☆

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“A love story so impossible… it must be true” is the movie promo’s incredibly dreamy tagline which perhaps quite aptly describes the dream come true. From the directors of ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ comes ‘Ruby Sparks’, an off beat romantic comedy with a touch of fantasy. Calvin’s a one time best selling novelist who’s suffering from writer’s block. Taking the advice of his therapist, he begins writing about a character based on his dream girl, Ruby Sparks. Thanks to some bizarre twist of fate, Ruby comes to life and Calvin gets the perfect relationship he always thought he wanted. It’s a modern take on Pygmalion, starring real life couple Paul Dano (Cowboys and Aliens, Looper) and Kazan (also the screenwriter) as Calvin and Ruby. With his manual typewriter on standby, he can make her fluent in french and alter her personality at will. The concept itself is idealistic bordering on psychotic.

Kazan herself critical of the “manic pixie dream girl” stereotype commonly found in indie movies cleverly constructed Ruby Sparks, shown to be more than a charming, sweet free spirit as she grows into becoming a real girl. Think Pinocchio, with very real emotions.

Despite its supernatural aspect which happens to be easily likened to Will Ferrell’s ‘Stranger than Fiction’, there is a certain underlying truth that the audience are likely to find relatable in this relationship movie. Seeing that she wrote the screenplay the first week she moved into Dano’s New York apartment, one can only imagine how much of reality inspired her creative work. The film explores the dangers of co-dependence and the tendency one has to hope to mould one’s significant other into who we want them to be. Calvin may have constructed the perfect girl but his controlling tendencies prove more disastrous than helpful. When flaws begin to seep through the seams of their blissfully happy relationship, he tries to rewrite Ruby, only to “correct” things to the extreme. Arguably, it became apparent that he did not understand women at all. The severity of the situation heightens as what started off as a dream takes a horrific turn due to his constant revisions. Eventually it becomes quite clear that under her mop of messy red hair and pretty dress, she is a puppet masked by a smile mistaken for happiness. Pushed to the limit, the dysfunctional nature of their relationship is horrific.

Dano is brilliant as the neurotic awkward writer, capable of delivering the darker side of his character with a subtle hint of vulnerability that allows the audience to identify with his loneliness and obsession with Ruby. Kazan is enchanting and the rest of the cast is solid, composing of Elliott Gould as the protagonist’s therapist, Chris Messina as Calvin’s more grounded older brother who is let in on the secret, and an eccentric pairing of Annette Benning and Antonio Banderes as their hippie mother and her furniture-making boyfriend.  However as endearing of a concept as it is, the build up was rather hollow and you don’t really feel the heartbreak at the climax. From a more critical perspective, it probably lacked a certain grit. Nevertheless, it finished with an ending that I don’t think could have possibly been better.

Ruby Sparks (2012), directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, is distributed in the UK by Twentieth Century Fox. Certificate 15.

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