Ruby Sparks

Art & Culture


This is one of the best comedies about boy/girl relationships since Eternal Sunshine Of the Spotless Mind, and comes from the directors of Little Miss Sunshine. It's funny, insightful and only at the end does it fall back into sentimentality.
Calvin (Paul Dano) is, or was, a literary prodigy. His first novel was hugely successful and allows him to live in great comfort with his dog, Scotty, named after F Scott Fitzgerald. Unfortunately, this first novel was written ten years ago, and there's has been no second novel. He sits and looks at his typewriter, but nothing happens. At night he dreams of a wonderful young woman (by day he's single), and so his therapist (Elliot Gould) suggests he writes about her. This unblocks Calvin's tubes, and soon he is tapping away at his typewriter about the delightful Ruby Sparks. All is well. And then all becomes even better when Ruby (Zoe Kazan) suddenly appears in his kitchen.
That's right. Ruby has become flesh and blood. Other people can see her, talk to her, touch her. She's real. Or as real as a person can be who has been created on the page.The only person who knows the truth about this is Calvin's older, more sensible and pragmatic brother, Harry, who is sworn to secrecy. And Ruby herself, of course, has no idea that she is a figment of his imagination. Hmm, where's this going, you wonder? Well, it takes an interesting route. Calvin realises that since he created her, with all her habits, clothes and cute behaviour, that he can change her. Want her to speak French? Just type the words. Want her to be less independent? Just type the words. It's all so easy.
Except. You see, once we see Calvin in relationship, we realise that he's not just the nice slightly insecure guy we've become fond of, but a lonely, controlling and passive aggressive person, who is incapable of leaving his creation alone. He's so afraid of being abandoned that he makes her over dependent, and when that palls (very quickly), he makes her joyful – which is equally annoying. What reinforces this notion that the point of the film is learning that a relationship involves two individuals, rather than simply being a male fantasy, is the fact that it was written by a woman – and not just any woman, but by Zoe Kazan, who plays Ruby. Not only has she given herself a great part, in which she can play kookie, clingy, manic and just plain human, but she is also illustrating very clearly what it must be like when someone tries to control you – including film directors, presumably.
What also makes the film charming are the performances of Dano and Kazan, a couple in real life. Dano played the silent kid in Little Miss Sunshine,  but here he has a much more interesting role, as a man without friends, whose self-absorption is so acute that he doesn't even see the need for any, once he has his perfect woman. Yet he is a not unappealing character; his success has brought him little but material comfort, and his emotional intelligence rates about 0.08. He despises his hippie mother and her boyfriend (Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas), and consorts with Langdon Hughes (an archetypally obnoxious performance from Steve Coogan – that's a compliment). We may nt love him, but we can understand him, and maybe admit that we recognise parts of ourselves within him,
The genre of romantic comedy has within it the potential for great insight, as is shown by the genius of screwball comedy in the 1930s and 40s, and even as recently as Groundhog Day less than 20 years ago. I was less impressed with Little Miss Sunshine than many were. And I fear that although this is a much better film, it won't get the same attention as its older sibling; the cinemas have little faith in it judging by the tiny screen allocated to it by the Odeon on its opening night. It may not be around for long, so I encourage you to go and see it before it is Bonded out of existence.

Phil Raby

Front Row Films

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