Ruby Sparks (2012)
Directors: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Screenwriter: Zoe Kazan
Starring: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Chris Messina, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, Steve Coogan. Elliott Gould
Imagine the Manic Pixie Dream Girl come to life. That’s what the story is of Ruby Sparks is… literally.
Written by co-lead Zoe Kazan, granddaughter of iconic film director Elia Kazan, Ruby Sparks casts a critical eye over the male tendency to imagine perfection in their romantic interests instead of admiring the reality of their partners, only the female character is literally imagined and produced on-screen as a physical manifestation of the imagination of the film’s writer antagonist Calvin (Paul Dano – There Will Be Blood). The topic alone is enticing, and the delivery manages to wrap this up in the same light-hearted manner that the co-directors’ previous picture – Little Miss Sunshine – did too, without avoiding any of the darker undertones in doing so. The balance is a difficult one to reach, but feels as effectively handled in Ruby Sparks as it was in Little Miss Sunshine, though Sparks does perhaps offer a more intimate and somewhat claustrophobic look at interpersonal relationships. It doesn’t feel as warm as a result, but it’s certainly worthy of having a critical eye cast over it, if not so much a passive one.
The script itself is a little thin, and this is particularly evident throughout the second act in which Ruby Sparks seems to steer away from the author/product relationship and the morality of it at the very moments it seems most vital to the plot’s development. These periods do, however, remain interesting and conclude in a much more sinister way with a much more critical outlook on the key protagonist than before. And, like Frankenstein and his monster, Calvin becomes a twisted vision of his earlier self and finally confronts the moral conundrum in a sequence of confrontations between the two characters that is not only well written but also sensationally performed by Zoe Kazan in particular. This sequence does a lot to lift the picture beyond the interesting topic and critical outlook and into a story of character and emotion; something that really helps to leave a great impression.
Ruby Sparks is a generally well-written, well-acted and well-photographed piece that succeeds in confronting such an interesting and important topic while remaining personal. It is therefore worthy of 1 hour 49 minutes of an intrigued film-lover’s mind.