RUBY SPARKS – The Review
Many men spend their whole lives seeking the perfect woman. In the movies it doesn’t take nearly that long. She can’t be stitched together as with THE BRIDE or using more recent technology as in WEIRD SCIENCE. In the new film RUBY SPARKS, the title character emerges in full flesh and blood after a writer describes her on paper ( well, types her up really ). Sounds a bit like something out of TV’s ” The Twilight Zone”, doesn’t it? As a matter of fact, Keenan Wynn was able to do this via a magic reel to reel dictation machine in the 1960 episode ” A World of His Own..” written by Richard Matheson. But this new film delves much further into this fantasy and grounds it in the reality of modern relationships. And it features two of the most interesting young actors working toward ( they were both producers and she wrote it )! This whimsical little tale is a welcome break from the big, bloated action epics that rule the Summer months.
RUBY SPARKS begins with Calvin ( Paul Dano ) the latest of a long line of cinema’s writer heroes doing battle with the dreaded writers; block ( think a much younger, less twitchy BARTON FINK ). At age 19 he wrote his masterpiece novel and can’t seem to really follow up with anything. A few short stories, a novella, but nothing near that first triumph. His brother Harry ( Chris Messina ) thinks Calvin should get back in the dating scene although he’s still stinging from a break-up with his longest love Lila a few years ago. Calvin spends most days staring at a blank sheet of paper in his 70′s era manual typewriter and taking his cute lil’ pup Scotty out to do his business. At night a lovely red-haired lady named Ruby ( Zoe Kazan ) dominates his dreams. In the longest encounter he meets her while taking Scottie to the park. The next day Calvin tells his therapist Dr. Rosenthal ( Elliott Gould ) about her. The doc suggests that he should try to write a page about her. At home that night Calvin starts churning out pages and pages of prose. The block is broken. A call from his agent awakens him at his desk the next morning. As Calvin’s about to head out to a meeting a voice calls out to him from his kitchen. A lady emerges…it’s Ruby! She acts as though they’ve been sharing the place for quite a while. Is this an illusion? Can others see her? If so, can she be changed by his typing? But why bother, since she just might be the perfect girlfriend.
And that’s not even the half of it, but I don’t wish to spoil the film’s many surprises. As with their previous hit, LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, Jonathon Dayton and Valerie Faris have a deft light touch directing film comedies and, like MISS, they get excellent performances from this great cast ( including great work with the often used Los Angeles locations ). Steve Coogan is his usual hilarious self as Calvin’s conniving, pompous, literary rival. Gould brings a lot of warmth to his role as the patient, wise advisor. Messina has a great rapport with Dano. They play off each other like a great classic comedy team ( with Harry the crude regular Joe to Calvin’s intellectual ). A highlight of the film ( featured very predominately in commercials ) is a family get together where we meet the boys’ mother ( Annette Bening ) and her new hubby Mort ( Antonio Banderas ). These screen vets are quite the scene stealers. Bening beams as a true ” Earth mother “, who’s thrilled with Ruby while Banderas charms as the passionate silver Spanish fox. But the film is really carried by the young couple at its center. After seeing him in heavy dramas like THERE WILL BE BLOOD, it was a delight to see Dano’s comic talents. With his smart-guy glasses he reminded me a bit of Cary Grant in BRINGING UP BABY, while other times I thought of Jimmy Stewart’s Elwood P. Dowd in HARVEY ( referenced in the film ) and VERTIGO’s Scotty Ferguson as Calvin tried to mold Ruby into his ideal. The big discovery here is Kazan. Not only did she write a very clever, original script, she as Ruby truly sparkles on-screen particularly in her street argument with Calvin and later as she flirts with him at a loud dance club ( thanks for the subtitles ). She’s hysterical as she is later turned into a clingy nymph by the writer and powerful as she stands up for herself after a disastrous writers’ party. The film takes a dark turn in the last act, but this treats us to another facet of Ruby ( and Kazan’s acting range ). The drama seems a bit out of balance with the fantasy elements, but it doesn’t take away anything from the film’s considerable charm. Like Calvin you too may fall hard for RUBY SPARKS. Let’s hope her creator, Ms. Kazan will find another film to showcase her considerable talents very soon.
Overall Rating: 4 Out of 5 Stars