Directed by: Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris
Starring: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Chris Messina
2006′s Little Miss Sunshine effectively established Dayton and Faris as household names, piloting the film toward four Oscar nominations and two subsequent wins, assuring us that they indeed have a bright future ahead of them. For their next effort, the dynamic duo have decided to try their hand at that of the romantic comedy, more specifically one that’s not wholly grounded in reality yet marvelously multifaceted everywhere it counts. This in mind, I had the pleasure of viewing one such film, Ruby Sparks, as part of a sneak preview hosted by none other than Pennsylvania’s Philadelphia Film Society last evening.
Focusing on literary wunderkind Calvin as his initial success paves the way toward inevitable writer’s block, the young man is emotionally crippled and socially awkward to the point where he needs the help of a shrink to get through his week let alone a single day. When the vision of his literal dream girl greets him one night, inspiration strikes immediately, prompting him to finally start writing his new novel. As time chugs along and Calvin continues to make headway, he begins to fall in love with his fictional subject a la the Pygmalion myth, eventually willing her to life and embarking on a real relationship much to the disbelief of Calvin’s nearly nonexistent group of cohorts.
Remaining equal parts fantastical and emotionally satisfying, Ruby Sparks is identifiably a bit of a mess given its penchant for starting off as a character study but not fully realizing its potential in that regard. It of course touches upon some very character-driven themes throughout its duration, more specifically how prolonged insecurity, loneliness and striving to live up to others’ expectations can lead to but an inherent flaw or two. Unfortunately, a bit but not all of its emotional honesty is lost once the previously fictional Ruby enters the picture, allowing Dayton and Faris to embrace the more fictional aspects of the narrative as everything begins to feel a bit uneven.
Exploring the idea of love found and lost along with the unquestionable permanence of free will and its importance, Calvin’s newfound ability to essentially control Ruby after swearing to never write about her again is predictable, but Kazan’s script is so appealingly concise that the entire film feels like a sort of Cliff’s Notes comprised of her and Dano’s character’s specific ups and downs as an initially healthy, moreover unconventional couple. Charm and wit ooze freely from its every pore, and although the unevenness brought about by its glaring whimsy is a bit distracting, the situations presented remain authentic enough to suck you in and keep you emotionally invested despite an especially jarring tonal shift during Ruby Sparks‘ final third.
All things considered, people are going to liken this to other films. As much of a mash-up of previously successful romcoms Ruby Sparks appears to be, Ms. Kazan’s script in relation to the strength of the film’s performances and a refreshingly original take on the intricacies of both sides of modern relationships is something to behold. Some may criticize it for a lack of focus or even the aforementioned messiness it purposefully embraces, but one thing’s for sure: Ruby Sparks, for me, is exactly what the doctor ordered, showcasing equal parts comedic prowess and effective relationship-centric drama to craft an amiable genre mash-up that’s plain entertaining everywhere it counts.