The mold of the genre is rarely broken in film. Once in a great while, there is a film that comes along that presents itself as a possible game changer. In the case of writer (and lead actress) Zoe Kazan, whose family tree has a great several writers on its branches, her first feature titled Ruby Sparks leaves something to be desired, if only for the fact that it’s really not as game-changing as the premise perhaps alludes to.
At 19, Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) became a literary sensation, writing a novel that received an overwhelmingly positive response from fans and critics alike. Ten years later, the somewhat reclusive writer has yet to produce another successful novel – in fact, he hasn’t done much of anything, aside from writing a few short stories. His mind, though brilliant, is not only his greatest asset, but most certainly an obvious hindrance, as made evident by way of his increasingly rare social interactions.
His perpetual writer’s block becomes a topic of discussion in his latest session with his therapist – of course only after bringing his concerns about his gender-challenged dog F. Scott Fitzgerald (Scotty), who pees like a girl. When Calvin brings up the girl in his dreams, his therapist (Elliott Gould) suggests a small writing assignment. Suddenly, Calvin can’t stop writing. He spends every waking moment on his craft, and soon begins to notice that the woman he has dreamt up and written down is no longer an idea, but rather a physical being. This woman is Ruby Sparks.
Ruby’s (Zoe Kazan) manifestation from fantasy to physical is gradual; first, a razor shows up, then a bra behind the couch cushions. Then, one morning, she just appears, appearing, acting, and being exactly the way Calvin had imagined up. At first, Calvin thinks he is seeing things, and his first reaction is to call his therapist. When he realizes that Ruby is, in fact, real, he is baffled, and goes along with it. I mean, for a guy that barely has a human relationship, a girl you have created, then comes to life and wants to be with you is like hitting the jackpot.
At first, Calvin and Ruby are blissful lovers – they do things, the go places, they live life and love it. For awhile things are as perfect as the relationship Calvin wrote about. When Calvin tells his brother Harry (Chris Messina) about the situation, he is baffled, but after some tweaking of the manuscript that causes immediate changes in Ruby (like her sudden ability to speak fluent French at Calvin’s command via his typewriter keys), Harry points out that Calvin has the ability to make certain…enhancements to Ruby. Calvin swears that he would never do that, as Ruby is perfect just the way he created her.
However, the influence of the real world on Ruby’s being soon affects her; no longer is she a moldable piece of Calvin’s imagination, but instead a woman intent on pursuing her own walk of life, her own story. Calvin’s inability to forfeit his role as Ruby’s creator and sole author of her story causes immense fractures in Calvin’s already damaged ego.
What does Calvin learn in all of this? I’m not really certain – in fact, the ending leaves me questioning what, if anything, we are supposed have taken away from this movie, especially when the main character doesn’t seem to learn much from his initial mistakes.
The characters that are presented in this film leave little for with which the audience can connect. Calvin’s attitude, while a perfect fit for Dano’s anxious, pensive, retreating nature, makes for a poor protagonist. While at first it would appear he has the most sensitive of egos, it turns out that just maybe his ego cannot be contained, especially when he realizes that he may be losing Ruby. His desire to control Ruby becomes increasingly difficult to watch, and results in a frighteningly climactic scene in which Calvin’s commands leave Ruby and the audience questioning what kind of freak Calvin is – and our lead female character is someone who appeared out of thin air from someone’s imagination.
The plot gives no elaboration on how Ruby came to be, nor on who or what she was – and while it’s a non-issue, it emits a definite lack of writer Zoe Kazan‘s ability to really push any boundaries, and instead muddles through the stereotypical romantic fodder.
Ruby Sparks pokes and prods at the idea of the metafictional, but instead pushes the idea around like a kid does with his Brussels sprouts at the end of a meal. Rather than attacking any one of the many more creative possibilities, the plot panders in the questionable relationship between Calvin and Ruby. What really bothers me about this is that this movie takes one step in the direction of being quirky and different, but ends up merely following the path of the overdone romantic comedies.
Ruby Sparks does not push the boundaries in the way I had hoped. The quirky attitude merely becomes overbearing, and lingers far too long on the obvious romantic points, rather than delving into a more perplexing avenue (of which there are a great deal).
The more I think about this movie, the more annoyed and angry I get, especially when I think about what it could have become – but then I think that in some odd way, that could have been the intention. I am attempting to create something out of this film that this film was never intended to be, and in this instance, am I not holding within myself the same despicable attitude I found in Calvin? Regardless, I think the movie is good for a watch, if not only to start a conversation, also to see the fantastic performances provided by the supporting cast – with Annette Bening playing Calvin’s earth-loving mom, and Antonio Banderas as her wood-working partner.
Give it a chance, maybe you will find more to love about it than I could.
Ruby Sparks – 6.5/10