Ruby Sparks is an original, charming, funny and poignant tale of a 29-year-old writer, Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano), coming to terms with himself and love through his craft. It is written by Zoe Kazan, who stars as Calvin's imagination-come-to-life girlfriend, Ruby, and directed by the team behind the critical hit Little Miss Sunshine, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. Having been unable to find success since his first and only novel ten years earlier - and in the film's opening sequences Calvin attends a reception to note the tenth anniversary of the publication - he has since been living off his wealth and has now become moody, depressed, undesirable and isolated from the world. The reason: a sophomore slump and writer's block.
He receives moral support from his brother, Harry (Chris Messina), but it isn't until he has a dream of meeting an attractive red haired girl (Kazan) in a park that he finds the inspiration he's so desperately seeking. He begins furiously writing about this character - the eponymous Ruby Sparks - and begins to fall in love with his creation. He views her as the perfect girl. One morning Ruby appears in his apartment, amused by Calvin's bewildered reaction and claiming they have been together for some time. Calvin decides to introduce Ruby to his family and friends - after finding proof that she actually does exist outside of his head - and resist the urge to manipulate her further.
The first half of Ruby Sparks is very funny, and I found myself relating to Calvin's writing routine, odd moments of inspiration, and frustration. Watching him come to terms with Ruby's presence in his life is hilarious; and things get even funnier when he calls in Harry to test whether Ruby exists and if she can be 'tweaked'. Paul Dano is back in top form - perfectly cast as the gangly, awkward, bespectacled and clearly talented writer stuck in a personal and professional rut. Though Calvin possesses some unlikeable characteristics, he is an endearing character we sympathise with and begin to grow concerned for when we realise he is blind to his faults and literally becomes over-controlling. It is a somewhat cautionary tale and instead of Calvin personally evolving, and letting his love for Ruby loose, he takes to altering Ruby and relying on these changes to strengthen the relationship. This does not work and we watch his male ego become fragile as he becomes increasingly desperate.
For the most part Ruby Sparks is pure enjoyment and the only real let down is the film's disappointing ending, which I won't discuss, but it actually doesn't make a whole lot of sense, considering how Dano's character evolves and what ultimately happens to Ruby. The film's predominantly dramatic second half is less successful too and a visit to the home of Calvin's mother and partner (Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas) goes on for a tad too long. When Ruby begins to grow distant, watching him re-write her (something he initially vowed not to do) is uneasily amusing and sad. He makes three significant changes to Ruby, and this does result in the film becoming surprisingly bleak. Still, I remained engrossed in Ruby Sparks, an intelligently conceived script from young writer Kazan, and a well-acted, slickly executed hipster romantic comedy/drama.
My Rating: ★★★★ (B)