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The Bottom Line
Should you see it?
Smart and funny featuring a great onscreen couple, Ruby Sparks delves into romantic notions of love without melodrama.
Doused in sunlight, Ruby (Kazan) appears to Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) in a dream and soon she has materialized. "The great love of his life," is no longer a piece of his imagination. She is very real, almost too real, and as new love becomes old, it is tested, and therin lies the truth of Ruby Sparks.
This is the type of film that should not be judged by its marketing campaign. It's something out of the world of Being John Malkovich or Synedoche, NY — both Charlie Kaufman scripts that are huge on ambition. Ruby Sparks doesn't have the intellectual edge of those films but it's in the ballpark.
Calvin Weir-Fields enjoyed huge success as a young writer, but now, in his late twenties, he is blocked and turns to his therapist (Elliott Gould) for help. He suggests a writing exercise and, with the help of his dreams, Calvin imagines Ruby Sparks, a beautiful goddess with azure eyes floating towards him. Of course, he falls in love with her.
There's a lot of Woody Allen in Calvin. He's an intellectual and a pure romantic, but Dano also brings a real physicality to the role. He runs around and uses hyper gesticulations when interacting with the few people in his life. The entire film is paced by his actions. The first act is frantic and fast-paced, but as Ruby becomes just another part of his life, his performance quiets down. It's a funny, nuanced piece of acting.
As Ruby settles in, Calvin invites his brother (and one friend) Harry (Chris Messina) over to meet her. Harry acts as the audience's surrogate, asking the hard questions. He urges Calvin to write something to see if it comes true in Ruby. When it does, Harry tells him, "You can make her do anything you want." Despite Harry's advice, Calvin avoids the path of cynicism and he and Ruby's relationship becomes normalized as they visit his parents (hippies Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas) and become a real couple.
As compelling as the first half of the film is, its most impressive feat is its path to resolution. Kazan's screenplay seems to be drifting when she suddenly pulls the rug out. Ruby turns into a very real person. She decides she wants to spend less time with Calvin and starts hanging out with other friends. As her creator and, thus, her administrator, Calvin overreacts to the situation, mirroring the actions of a million overbearing, jealous boyfriends. He uses his typewriter to control her, something he swore he wouldn't do.
The film ends with a tightly knit moment of fate between Calvin and Ruby that serves to further the film's theme of love's ineffable power. As Calvin proclaims early on, "It's love! It's magic!" For a comedic drama to skirt melodrama within the framework of fantasy is no easy thing. Easy dialogue and believable characters lead the way, but the film succeeds due to the performances of (real-life couple) Dano and Kazan. Their effortless chemistry obscures any weakness the story might have. Simply put, you love seeing them together, and that is the mark of a true screen romance.
See more photos of Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan here: