The directors of Little Miss Sunshine follow up that charming underdog with a romantic comedy/fantasy film that takes a page out of the Charlie Kaufman book of storytelling. Ruby Sparks is a lovely movie that was written by one of the film’s lead actors, Zoe Kazan, and stars her boyfriend, Paul Dano. The There Will Be Blood actor portrays Calvin, a neurotic writer struggling to work on his second novel after his first took the literary world by storm.
When Calvin’s therapist (Elliot Gould) gives him a writing exercise, he reluctantly takes the assignment. He’s to write a page about someone who likes his dog, Scotty. Thinking the exercise is nonsense, Calvin goes to bed one night and has a dream about a pretty woman he meets in the park while walking Scotty. They hit it off and sit together, talking, while she sketches the dog. Calvin wakes with a start and is suddenly inspired. Words spring from his mind to his typewriter faster than his fingers can move.
Days pass and pages begin to stack up on Calvin’s desk; his writer’s block has disappeared. When he returns to his therapist, Calvin thanks the doctor and admits that he’s falling in love with the character he’s created for the book. He’s named his dream woman Ruby Sparks. That’s when strange things begin to happen. Scotty shows up carrying women’s shoes in his mouth, and lingerie appears in his kitchen drawers, something Calvin can’t explain to his brother (Chris Messina) and sister-in-law (Toni Tucks). Everything comes to a head the morning Calvin walks down the stairs of his apartment and discovers a pretty woman cooking him breakfast in his kitchen. It’s Ruby Sparks.
Calvin thinks he’s losing his mind. Only after he realizes that other people can see and interact with Ruby does he begin to accept that this magical woman is flesh and blood. As they begin a relationship, Calvin soon discovers is that he can dictate every aspect of Ruby’s life. Whatever he types on his typewriter becomes a reality for her. If he wants her to be fluent in French, all he has to do is type “Ruby was fluent in French.” If he wants to lift her mood he types “she was happy.” And so on. This power over Ruby, his creation, is at first exhilarating. However, it eventually becomes a burden and Calvin wonders whether Ruby really loves him or is it just because he typed it. Calvin must soon decide whether to continue acting as God and controlling Ruby’s life, or to set her free.
Ruby Sparks drew me in with its whimsy and the uncomplicated acting of Kazan, Dano and the rest of its great cast, including Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas. The deeper philosophical questions that Kazan and the directors, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, raise throughout the film didn’t start swimming around in my head until the movie was finished. The film tackles the themes of free will, and when does art cease to belong to the artist and become it’s own entity. There are many thoughtful questions working throughout Ruby Sparks, but this isn’t some esoteric indie film that only a select few can appreciate. Whether you decide to dig deep or just take the film on its face value, as a fantasy romantic comedy, Ruby Sparks an ideal date movie and has broad appeal.