Directors: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
Starring: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan
Ruby Sparks is without a doubt one of the best movies of 2012.
A meta-fictional Frankenstein-meets-Stranger-Than-Fiction, Ruby Sparks tells the tale of Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano), a young writer suffering from writer’s block after publishing his first novel, which is a literary masterpiece. On a writing project from his therapist (Elliott Gould), Calvin accidentally writes his dream girl, Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan) into existence.
Also the film’s writer, Zoe Kazan builds the plot slowly. The first act seems to drag on—especially during Calvin’s reaction to Ruby appearing in his apartment. It works, as this slow plot tricks the audience into thinking Ruby Sparks will be a simple love story—it’s not. She is an intensely smart deconstruction of the manic-pixie-dream-girl trope appearing in films such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or 500 Days of Summer.
Calvin eventually discovers he can alter Ruby’s personality in accordance with his own desires, but finds this process damaging as trying to fix her gradually reveals his own flaws in dealing with relationships, culminating in some incredibly painful, hard-to- watch scenes when this idea is taken to its logical conclusion.
As an actress, Kazan makes Ruby feel incredibly real. There is an intense awareness of physical space that she embodies that makes everything she does interesting and compelling. Dano does a good job as a Woody Allen-like Calvin. However, his role is not a significant step in another direction for him—his role in There Will Be Blood is very similar.
As smart as Ruby Sparks is, the film’s biggest downfall is its ending. The final scene leaves the final note too ambiguous as to what will happen to the characters. It could represent catharsis for Calvin, who struggles throughout the film to treat his characters as people, or it could undermine the entire point of the movie by suggesting a circular narrative.
There is also a substantial section in the middle when Ruby meets Calvin’s parents that is interesting and implies many things, but confirms none. While Calvin’s mother (Annette Benning) is an almost Oedipal reflection of Ruby that leaves many interesting questions, the big question left unanswered is whether or not she has also written her boyfriend (Antonio Banderas).
What makes Ruby Sparks so powerful is how it reveals aspects of romantic comedies or chick flicks as an engine for male fantasies, and what these represent when taken to their logical conclusion. The result is a film that hits hard and is incredibly insightful with its observations, and despite its ambiguous ending, it offers a chance at redemption. There is a grace here that is unexpected and, as a result, powerful. This makes Ruby Sparks incredible, and definitely one of the best of the year.