One of the best movies you will see this year is called Ruby Sparks. It is in my top 10 films of 2012 so far, but the Academy might debate me on that. This is an engrossing romantic dramedy, full of originality, humor, metaphysical layers and packed with an emotional punch-to-the-gut at times. The performances are wonderful, the script is ingenious – reminiscent of Woody Allen – and even though it might drag a bit in the middle, it’s hard not to acknowledge that this movie is a refreshing take on a love story.
Calvin (Paul Dano) is a young novelist who achieved phenomenal success early in his career but is now struggling with his writing – as well as his romantic life. Finally, he makes a breakthrough and creates a character named Ruby who inspires him. When Calvin finds Ruby (Zoe Kazan), in the flesh, sitting on his couch about a week later, he is completely flabbergasted that his words have turned into a living, breathing person.
For whomever has watched Woody Allen’s Annie Hall and the Marshall McLuhan scene, along with Marc Webb‘s (500) Days of Summer or Marc Foster‘s Stranger Than Fiction, you can appreciate Ruby Sparks vivid and colorful imagination. Zoe Kazan (It’s Complicated, Meek’s Cutoff), the screenwriter and lead actress in this movie has made a writer’s film and the deep and connected relationship that an author has with his character. With influences of the Pygmalion Greek myth and magical realism, Kazan uses it to prove a point, express an idea and convey a message. This is also a style perfected by Colombian Nobel prize-winning author Gabriel García Márquez in his many works. Spark’s essence is based on this literary and cinematic aesthetic style that engages the interest and provokes a desire to see more of it. We, unfortunately, aren’t exposed to much from our American writers but Webb and now Kazan seem to be indulging us with it in the last few years.
Paul Dano, a mostly indie actor, has impressed me with two particular films as of late: Being Flynn, and the subject at hand, Ruby Sparks. In both, Dano taps into a gritty, real man’s persona as if he was one – not an actor – but an everyday man plucked from the streets of New York to play a part. He’s pretty authentic, depressing, fragile and vulnerable mostly, but authentic. Here he drowns in anguish as Calvin Weir-Fields, an author so fixated on the complexities in life, that he develops writer’s block. He nails the plight of someone consternated by too many questions and thoughts. Then, we see his delight of being in love to only see the gloom of loss. He pulled it off and it was a pleasure to see.
Zoe Kazan, granddaughter of Elia Kazan, one of the most influential directors in Broadway and film, wrote the script which she stars in with her real life boyfriend – Paul Dano. Surprise! The chemistry between both are evident (it’s not always true of couples on screen), but it’s her narrative that shines. Kazan and Dano had met while doing a play together and previously acted together in Kelly Reichardt’s western Meek’s Cutoff. Recognizing their real life chemistry as a vital resource, directors Dayton & Faris (Little Miss Sunshine) tapped into Dano and Kazan’s romance to present real emotion and it worked. On the acting side, Kazan is the heart of the movie. She’s free spirited, sexy, brave and imperfect – all from a fictional person come to life.
Antonio Banderas plays a small role as Mort, Dano’s mother’s boyfriend. He’s a man who embodies this kind of overt sexuality and free form, anti-establishment playfulness. He’s effusive and loving, but it is what makes Calvin, who is wound pretty tight, resist him. It is the first time Banderas works with dual directors, but it didn’t seem like he had any problems with it.
The pacing of the movie begins with an upbeat tempo, but 45 minutes or so into it, it begins to drag a bit, hanging on to emotional intricacies that can fatigue the mind. It picks up again to the eventual and heartbreaking denouement.
Overall, Ruby Sparks is for moviegoers who enjoy high concept indie stories, romantic films and Woody Allenism’s. Durign or after the movie, you’ll be asking yourself whether Ruby Sparks was for real or not. That just adds to the charm of this small gem of a film.