Saturday, August 11, 2012

Review: "Ruby Sparks"

Ruby Sparks is from the same directors (Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris) as the fantastic Little Miss Sunshine (2006). I was expecting a film with the same quirky blend of humour and sadness that made Little Miss Sunshine one of the best films of 2006. Ruby Sparks is dutifully bound to be compared to 2006's Stranger Than Fiction. Both films deal with writers who have characters come to life. Ruby Sparks plays it a little more slapstick than Stranger Than Fiction while also trying to be a smart independent comedy. Paul Dano (who also starred in Little Miss Sunshine) is a perfect choice for Calvin, Ruby's creator. He is a terrific actor who has not quite achieved the same calibre of performance since 2007's There Will Be Blood. Coincidentally, he and costar Zoe Kazan were both in Kelly Reichardt's 2010 western Meek's Cutoff. Zoe Kazan, and actress who has appeared in more than a dozen films, has never really caught my eye. I was surprised to learn that she wrote the screenplay for Ruby Sparks. There is nothing entirely wrong with Ruby Sparks, but I feel like it would have been more successful with more subtlety. Calvin is a little too erratic and neurotic, especially during a scene with his mother and step-father (played brilliantly by Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas). Zoe Kazan is beautiful to watch as Ruby Sparks for the majority of the film, but there comes a time when she loses her innocence and the characterization feels forced. Ruby Sparks is a fun story, even if it feels recycled, with a great performance from Paul Dano. Zoe Kazan, as screenwriter and star, has a quality that will make her a hot commodity in the very near future.

Calvin Weir-Fields (Dano) is 29. Ten years ago he became a successful novelist. He has not written another novel since. He spends all his time at home with his dog Scotty and tries to write. Calvin no longer sees any of his friends. The only person he sees regularly is his brother Harry (Chris Messina). While lamenting to his therapist, Dr. Rosenthal (Eliot Gould), that he resents Scotty  for having to go for walks thus breaking up his day, he is given an writing assignment: write one page about someone who loves Scotty for who he is. In a dream he sees a beautiful redheaded woman. Calvin begins to write about her, Ruby Sparks, and is unable to stop. He soon begins to fear that he is falling in love with his character. Calvin is surprised when he finds a woman's razor in his bathroom and flabbergasted to find a red bra on his sofa. Soon after Ruby appears in his apartment and Calvin is worried he is hallucinating. He takes her out and discovers that other people can see her too. When Calvin tells Harry, they concoct a plan to see if Calvin can write more to see if it comes true. Calvin learns that he has the power to tweak Ruby's personality and behaviour to suit his needs.

As much as Ruby Sparks is reminiscent of Stranger Than Fiction, I feel that there is a stronger bond  between it and Beginners. Like Calvin, Oliver (Ewan McGregor) works in a creative field (he is a graphic artist). And like Calvin, Oliver spends a lot of the film worrying about the welfare of his dog. It just seems, at least in my head, that Zoe Kazan has borrowed a lot of elements from other films to create Ruby Sparks. And I must add that the film has one of the worst endings I have witnessed since The Devil Wears Prada. There is nothing outstanding or innovative about the film. It is a good film with an interesting plot and terrific acting. I just wish that Hollywood would stop promoting films based on prior credits. Safety Not Guaranteed, "from the producers of Little Miss Sunshine", was not what I was expecting. And Ruby Sparks definitely did not have as much satirical humour as I had anticipated. It is not that I disliked Ruby Sparks. It is a good film, I just wish it had been crisper. I wanted it to be wryer. I know I come across as dismissive, but I fully enjoyed Ruby Sparks. It is just the kind of film that you are unable to hate, but at the same time, there is nothing that makes you fall in love with it either. This could have been the film that set Zoe Kazan's career ablaze. There is another actress who wrote and starred (and directed) in a film that is in theatres: Julie Delpy. Her work is decidedly more fresh and cohesive, but Zoe Kazan can achieve this as she grows as an actress and writer. Overall, I wanted more from Ruby Sparks, but I was content with what I got. It is somewhat of a mess, and it reuses ideas already seen before, but Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan have good chemistry.

My rating: 3 stars out of 4.

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