Wednesday, 10 October 2012
Film: Ruby Sparks (2012)
The latest from the directors of Little Miss Sunshine is another quirky tale, a romantic comedy with a twist. It's also an acting calling card for its writer, Zoe Kazan, who gives herself a plum role as Ruby. Paul Dano plays Calvin, a writer who wrote an American classic in his teens but has been struggling for 10 years to come up with a second novel. Channeling early Woody Allen, Dano has the specs, the sleezy agent and the neurosis, going to regular therapy sessions with his shrink, a great cameo by Elliott Gould. Given a task by his shrink to write a page about a girl he dreamt about, Calvin finds himself inspired and soon finds himself falling in love with his creation, Ruby Sparks. Things take an unexpected turn when his creation comes to life in his kitchen. Now Calvin has his dream girlfriend but can he resist rewriting her once things do not go according to his plan?
Ruby Sparks is an enjoyable little film and one that has fun with its central premise. Much of the early amusement is Calvin freaking out, believing he is going mad until he realises others can see and interact with Ruby too. There's some funny moments when Calvin proves to his brother (an excellent Chris Messina) that Ruby is fictional by writing that she speaks fluent French on his typewriter only to have Ruby start spouting francais downstairs in the kitchen. As Ruby, Zazan is a blast, an explosion of fun and colour, a girl any man would like to spend time with. As the film develops however, cracks begin to form; Calvin may have created her but there's a big difference between conceiving your ideal woman and actually living with her. Calvin may crave an independent and quirky woman but that makes it all the more difficult to control her and, we find out, control is what Calvin is all about.
The film enters darker territory in the final third. When visiting Calvin's mother and stepfather (Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas), a free living and loving couple, Ruby instantly fits in but Calvin, true to his name, cannot let go, becoming even more buttoned up and repressed. Ruby feels more and more trapped, not understanding why the way she is suddenly seems to be irritating her boyfriend. We also meet Calvin's ex and start to realise that Calvin has real problems with women and intimacy. When he starts to rewrite Ruby's personality it's initially played for laughs but as his attempts still don't seem to satisfy him he goes further, in a scene that is very uncomfortable and provides Kazan with a chance to impress as Ruby's character and actions change constantly as he rewrites her.
Though dark, Ruby Sparks chooses to focus on the positives and, though I didn't really buy the rather convenient ending, it means you leave the cinema smiling rather than frowning. One of the big successes of this movie is that it confronts some of the big themes of everyday life - the need to control, the tendency we have to want to change our partner even though we fell in love with the very traits we now dislike, and the importance of being able to let go - with a light touch. This is an engaging, well acted film that gives you something to muse over on the way home. Recommended.
GK Rating: ****