It’s been 10 years since Calvin (Paul Dano; Little Miss Sunshine) published his first and only novel. He was in high school when the book came out and achieved overnight success as a writing prodigy. Since then, he’s been struggling to turn out a follow-up, but a dream about the perfect woman sends him into a writing frenzy and after days of writing about his ideal woman and ideal relationship, Calvin is surprised to see the woman of his dreams has manifested herself in his apartment, as if she’d been there all along. Played by Zoe Kazan, who also wrote the screenplay for the film, Ruby is a confident and sexy young woman, who Calvin immediately falls in love with; once he confirms that he’s not crazy.
I wasn’t sold on Ruby Sparks until almost the end. It’s a fresh spin on the romantic comedy genre for sure, and the characters are trying to bring something unique to the table, but the story takes a while to really pique my interest. This is definitely because the most interesting thing about this film doesn’t come into play until more than halfway through. Since Ruby was created by Calvin’s imagination, he is able to keep writing about her and alter her character to anything he wants. After realizing this, he pledges to never write about her again, but the audience knows he will give into the temptation sooner or later. This gives the film a nice inevitability and helps it organically shift its tone from something lighthearted to something very dark. Calvin’s alterations to Ruby’s personality start off minor and subtle, but casually build to what I’ll call the Puppet Scene. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s deeply disturbing and shows off the immense skill of the two lead actors.
I tend to despise movies about writers. Who cares if the neurotic writer guy can’t beat his writer’s block? Who cares if he can’t make his deadline? This is the epitome of low-stakes storytelling. Thankfully, Calvin’s inability to write is only relevant to the setup to the film. Once Ruby is part of the film, the story becomes about this budding relationship, and what happens when the initial excitement of a new romance starts to wear off. It raises a lot of interesting questions about interpersonal relationships and romance.
I find the film really relatable. Obviously Calvin’s role as a writer speaks to me on a personal level, but deeper than that is the relationship with Ruby. I feel like I’ve dated Ruby Sparks so many times. The confident, independent version, and the needy neurotic version, and the idea of Calvin learning something from each mistake he makes in the film is something I see in myself all the time.
Available now on Blu-ray and DVD from 20th Century Fox