Ruby Sparks: Pygmalion for the modern age
It’s not uncommon for someone to have a romantic dream about a man or woman. Most people will admit that they’ve entertained the thought of their dream partner existing in real life, but most likely, no one can saythat this person suddenly appeared one morning making them breakfast.
In “Ruby Sparks,” that dream person does materialize for Calvin Weir-Fields, played by Paul Dano, a novelist struggling to follow up a hyper-successful first novel that is lauded as this generation’s “The Catcher In The Rye.”
In their directing follow up to “Little Miss Sunshine,” Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, head the screenplay written by co-star, Zoe Kazan.
The story, inspired the Greek myth of Pygmalion, begins with Calvin starting to write about a woman he sees in his dreams after a bout of prolonged writer’s block. After having written a few pages, he inexplicably begins to find things around his house, including a woman’s razor and a bra in his dresser. Things get stranger when one morning he actually finds the woman he’s been writing about making him breakfast. Calvin’s dreams have come true. The
woman he has imagined and put to paper has become real.
Real life becomes better than Calvin’s dreams. With literally no explanation, Calvin awakes with Ruby as his girlfriend. It’s not until he has to explain to his brother that she came out of nowhere, that both realize that whatever Calvin writes about Ruby, comes true. Whether it be that she speaks French or cannot be separated from Calvin, whatever he writes becomes true of Ruby.
The screenplay by Kazan is something to be recognized. Themes of idealism in relationships is most prevalent. Before Ruby is even introduced as a real person in the film, Calvin professes to his psychiatrist, played by Elliot Gould, that he’s in love with his fictional woman.
Herein lies the conflict in the film, like in most real life relationships, when Calvin realizes that Ruby is a real person with her own feelings, wants and desires that sometime conflict with what he wants. However, he has the ability to rewrite her. Things start to become problematic when he finds himself needing to change her regularly. The film also becomes a cautionary tale of being manipulative in a relationship.
The movie also succeeds with great casting and acting. Dano plays the character of a shy and reclusive, but brilliant author well. It’s a departure from his previous supporting roles in “Little Miss Sunshine” and “There Will Be Blood,” but Dano shows that he can be the lead role in a film.
Kazan also excels playing Ruby, constantly alternating between being a character of independent thought and feeling, than being manipulated by Calvin into being whatever he wants her to be.
Supporting roles are also rounded out with well known names such as Steve Coogan, Annette Bening, Elliot Gould and Antonio Banderas. Also watch for a cameo from Alia Shawkat, who plays Maeby in the television show “Arrested Development.”
As one would expect the movie has a similar charm to that of “Little Miss Sunshine” and “500 Days of Summer” with the bright surface the movie advertises itself with and real depth and relatable themes. “Ruby Sparks” may draw some more parallels to the latter, with a similar theme of idealism in relationships. Both protagonists in each film imagine their co-stars as a dream woman, but soon realize that their idealized girls don’t solely exist to serve their purposes.
It may further draw more comparisons with Kazan’s ‘Ruby’ being somewhat reminiscent of Zooey Deschanel’s role of a young, free-spirited girl in “500 Days of Summer.” Similar personalities and the ‘quirky indie girl’ aesthetic between both of them make distinguishing their characters somewhat tricky.
Despite the similarities that it will make to “500 Days of Summer,” the film is still very original.
With an imaginative and well-written screenplay, great chemistry between Kazan and Dano and some decent laughs, “Ruby Sparks” is a romantic comedy that is more than just a summer chick flick.