September 1, 2014

Film Review: Ruby Sparks

 

PHOTO BY MERRICK MORTON

Film Review:  <i>Ruby Sparks</i>

Paul Dano as “Calvin” and Zoe Kazan as “Ruby” on the set of Ruby Sparks.

Not since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind has a romantic comedy or drama been as innovative or delightfully haunting as Ruby Sparks.

Calvin (Paul Dano) is a Salinger-esque author looking for inspiration to his long gestating sophomoric release. After working on a writing assignment doctored up by his psychiatrist (Elliot Gould), Calvin inadvertently creates Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan), the woman of his dreams and, apparently, in real life. While Calvin appears to have everything he wants, happiness and solace elude him.

Written by Kazan, Ruby Sparks is a film that works on multiple levels. The undeniably sweet romantic comedy veneer lures you in, while the commentary about the subtleties surrounding the dominance and submission in a relationship is nothing short of revelatory. For those uninterested in love and its intricacies, the film serves as a great character study focusing on the Pygmalion effect and the creative process.

Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris also seem to be a natural fit. Their last effort, 2006’s Little Miss Sunshine, has the same engine as Ruby Sparks albeit in different packaging. The duo has a knack for showing delicate, unflinching and sometimes ugly moments of the human dynamic in a very humanistic and empathetic tone. While the actions of Calvin and Ruby are questionable at times, it’s never done in malice but out of love, which goes to show what love can do. Among all the concepts being juggled, the film is beautifully streamlined.

Dano not only has the look, he, more importantly, has the feel for Calvin. It would’ve been easy for the actor to slip into a second rate, watered-down Alvy Singer. Instead, Dano happily takes a backseat and allows the viewer to ride shotgun with Kazan taking control of the wheel.

Fearless would be the most apt description of Zoe Kazan’s performance of the titular character. As cute and whimsical as Ruby Sparks may be, there is a breadth and depth to her character and performance that is truly remarkable. There’s no hokey context or perception of who Ruby is as evidenced in Splash, Mannequin or Weird Science. There will be bigger things to come for this actress.

Looking nothing at all like Paul Dano, Chris Messina adds comic relief as Calvin’s brother, Harry. Following Dayton/Faris’ humanistic approach, the jokes aren’t all laugh out loud as much as they tickle the ribs. Funny is funny. Annette Benning and Antonio Banderas also make cameo appearances and do more than expected with one-dimensional characters.

This film is going be on a few year-end Top 10 lists (mine included) along with a few award nominations. See it now and be ahead of the game.