Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Ruby Sparks Is Deceptively Quirky Fun

Some reviewers are quick to paint the romantic comedy Ruby Sparks, directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, as yet another story about a young man learning how not to be selfish. Such assessments are an interesting comment on society. Had the gender roles been reversed, the character would be celebrated.

But Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano), a struggling novelist who finds new inspiration from the fictional girl of his dreams, is an insecure male inexplicably granted a peculiar gift. His fictional character of Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan), whom he describes to his psychiatrist (Elliott Gould) as the love of his life, slowly begins to manifest herself as he writes her into existence.

Ruby Sparks begins as a quirky fairy tale. 

What begins as a random lady's razor and red lace bra found at his home transform into a living, breathing girl having cereal in his kitchen. His reaction is expected but comedic nonetheless. After failing to recruit his brother (Chris Messina) or psychiatrist for an intervention, he invites a random acquaintance to lunch.

The plan might have worked, but Sparks invites herself along for the ride. It's at lunch that Weir-Fields discovers that he is not the only one who can see her. She is as real as anybody else, even if other people who know her fictional roots have a hard time adjusting to it.

The intoxicating allure of crafting his ideal woman takes a slow, dark turn when his brother suggests that Weir-Fields write something about her. The verification is innocent enough: She speaks French.

But what begins as an innocent test is left with the early seeds of temptation. His brother points out that he can change her in any way he wants. Weir-Fields claims he'll never write about her again. His pledge is kept for months until his mother wants to meet the new girl.

Although the pace of the film slows considerably in the middle as the mystical conflict takes a backseat to going through motions of life, it doesn't stay complacent forever. Sparks begins to exhibit some subtle moodiness and a little independence. She takes an art class, decides to sleep one night a week at her own apartment, and sometimes chooses her friends over him.

The rom-com takes a decidedly twisted turn.

With a few fleeting punches on his typewriter, Weir-Fields begins to tamper with what was once perfection. One over correction leads to another, until the likable girl becomes a reflection of her former self. And this is where the morality creeps in and sneaks into the movie. 

Torn between the proposition that Sparks is his intellectual property and his desire to have a real and occasionally flawed relationship, Weir-Fields is at a loss. Sparks is also often at a loss too, unable to pursue her own ambitions beyond the limits of his imagination. The pressure eventually boils over.

A little more magic from the makers of Little Miss Sunshine.

Although not as ambitious as Little Miss Sunshine, the husband and wife team of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris prove they are still at the top of their game as filmmakers (beyond music videos). What continues to be their calling card is their ability to make deceptively simple plot lines to convey maximum depth.

This time around, the duo had the help of Zoe Kazan, who not only starred in the film with her off-screen boyfriend Dano, but also wrote it. Since her acting debut in 2003, Kazan has steadily improved her work as an actress, playwright, and screenwriter. Expect more great things from her, even when she doesn't have the benefit of a talented cameo pool to draw upon: Antonio Banderas, Steve Coogan, Annette Bening, along with Gould,.

Ruby Sparks Makes High Marks At 7.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Ruby Sparks is an enjoyable distraction with much more heart than it appears to have on the front end. Although some people will dismiss it as the latest lesson for immature men, the film transcends any such thinness to become something more than the sum of its parts. It asks how much control does anybody really want when it's often the anticipation, unexpectedness, and survival of life that makes it interesting and worthwhile.

You can find Ruby Sparks [Blu-ray] on Amazon. The movie is also available as a download from iTunes or you can order the DVD from Barnes & Noble. Although there isn't much to it, Ruby Sparks also has an interactive typewriter online that produces thought bubbles as you type. There are also some extras to look for on Facebook.
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