Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) is a “genius” novelist fighting one of the severest cases of writer’s block possible. It’s been almost ten years since his highly acclaimed debut story, but the pressure to write another equally great work weighs heavy on him. In an attempt to get him to simply write, his therapist (Elliott Gould as Dr. Rosenthal) prompts Calvin to simply write something…something bad…just for him. The thought of writing something just for himself without worrying about the quality inspires Calvin. That night he dreams of a girl, Ruby (Zoe Kazan), a quirky, charming wisp that loves Calvin and all his flaws. When Calvin wakes, he writes of this muse and continues to dream and write about her. Until one day, she appears in his apartment, unaware that she is a fictional creation of Calvin’s and dismayed by his apprehension toward her. What follows is a mix of a romantic comedy mixed with a philosophy lesson. Calvin can control his created girlfriend’s future, but should he or anyone have that much power over another person? Is that really love?
The fictional creation in real life isn’t exactly a new concept in film (e.g. “Stranger than Fiction”) and the complete control over the girlfriend is especially common (e.g. “Stepford Wives”), but what is new is how this film handles the god concept idea. “You could do anything, change anything you don’t like about her — make her boobs bigger!” Calvin’s brother Harry (Chris Messina) suggests early in the film to Calvin. And if you recall, that’s exactly what the husbands do in films such as “Stepford Wives,” and this would have been a dull film if it had gone that route. Instead Calvin resists his brother’s suggestions, saying he will write about Ruby no more…that is until trouble enters his idealistic romance and he dusts off the old typewriter. It’s a slippery slope that really brings out Calvin’s darker qualities and insecurities.
“Ruby Sparks” was written by Zoe Kazan, who also stars as the title character. Kazan is a phenomenal young talent. She has the doe-like, wide-eyed wonder quality that makes girls such as Zooey Deschanel so fascinating to many. So not only is she alluring in her role as Ruby, but she’s also the brains behind the whole film. The movie is pretty low budget and most of it occurs in the confines of Calvin’s apartment, so a lot of the film is dependent on the quality of the script and the dialogue. I loved the high level of thought that went into this film and the large range of emotions it develops in such a limited setting. There are genuine laughs, but also real soul torturing moments. This film is up there with darker indie romantic comedies such as “(500) Days of Summer.”
In “Ruby Sparks,” we learn less about what makes Ruby “Ruby” than we learn about what really makes Calvin “Calvin.” When trying to answer who or what is Ruby, it all comes back to Calvin and who he is. When he oversteps his bounds and really takes control, we see a very dark Calvin. While Calvin isn’t a bad guy, he is also unwilling to acknowledge his own flaws and until he does, he can never truly love Ruby or anyone. In journeying with Calvin on his journey of self-reflection and definition, the audience is forced to also redefine who they think of themselves and how they think of their own relationships. You know a film is good when it makes you think not only about its story, but your own life story.
“Ruby Sparks” manages to take everything I like about reading, but actually capture that on film. There’s an engaging story that makes me think and still leaves plenty to my imagination. It’s obvious that I’m excited to see what Kazan dreams up next.