Starring: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Annette Bening
You may like this if you liked: Stranger than Fiction (Marc Forster, 2006), The Science of Sleep (Michel Gondry, 2006), Little Miss Sunshine (Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, 2006)
Calvin Weir-Fields (Dano) is a novelist whose debut novel that he wrote when 19 made him millions, however that was ten years ago and he has serious writers block. He also lives a lonely life with only his dog called Scotty for company. Calvin is also plagued by dreams where he always meets this woman that is basically perfect for him and everything he would want in a woman, who he refers to as Ruby. To cure his writers block, Calvin’s shrink advises him to simply write about Ruby and not worry about a novel for the time being. So, on his battered old typewriter Calvin starts to describe Ruby. However, one morning he comes down stairs to find the very same woman in his kitchen and they appear to be going out. What is even more unbelievable is that if he writes anything else about her on his typewriter this also becomes immediately true. Despite having the seemingly perfect girl, will it still prove to be a perfect relationship?
As this is only the second feature from the married double act that directed Little Miss Sunshine, there may well be obvious comparisons. Though Ruby Sparks is a quirky comedy at its core, this is where the similarity ends. Though there are some amusing moments, this is not a laugh out loud comedy. There are plenty of moments that give way to darker themes and some serious messages about relationships and coming to terms with our own faults. However even these tend to be skirted around and always there, but never examined in any real detail. That for me was the main problem with Ruby Sparks, though it was perfectly enjoyable and watchable, it was simply that and almost felt too afraid to take any risks. This was a slight disappointment considering there was potential here for there to be a Kaufman/Woody Allen real thought provoker. Maybe this was partly down to a fear of alienating too many demographics? Or maybe differences of opinion between the lead actress/screenwriter and the directors? Who Knows? This is the result.
Though this could be described as a ‘high concept’ comedy it always feels very safe and predictable. Unfortunately all the characters are a little too clichéd and feel that their characteristics fit almost too neatly into the plot developments. There is Paul Dano’s tortured and socially awkward writer, with his contrasting and opposite brother who is confident, hunky and successful (Chris Messina). Of course let us not forget his slightly mad parents and an arrogant English rival writer (Steve Coogan). Ruby herself is of course quirky and naive, but incredibly sweet and likeable.
Despite the ‘high concept’ of the narrative, it is all actually surprisingly predictable. I watched this film on a sunny afternoon and it felt perfect for that too, I am sorry to give it the old label of ‘enjoyable but forgettable’. In fact this film pretty much was a sunny afternoon in 90 minutes. Of course despite seemingly being perfect, Calvin still finds faults with Ruby and then when he changes them they well make things worse. This of course may be more a reflection on the faults of his personality, especially after a meeting with an ex and a very revealing conversation. These are interesting ideas on the human condition, but once again just skirt around the edges. There are all the usual character arcs, but once again you see them all coming a mile off leaving a rather empty experience by the end.
The saving grace of Ruby Sparks is the performances. Zoe Kazan brings enthusiasm and genuinely sweet naivety to the character of Ruby and Paul Dano is extremely likeable. Annette Bening and Antonio Bendaras bring the characters of his parents to live, and Chris Messina gives Calvin’s brother surprising heart. Zoe Kazan’s dialogue itself is good, the only problem is the story itself does not realise its own potential.
The heartfelt performances and genuinely good intentions make Ruby Sparks charming, watchable and good fun. However a lack of ambition or risk taking leaves a slightly flat and predictable experience. I also recommend watching on a sunny afternoon, just trust me on that one.