Review: Ruby Sparks

(Ruby Sparks poster)

Ruby Sparks (©2012 20th Century Fox)

Rated R for language, this comedic fantasy stars real-life couple Zoe Swicord Kazan (Fracture) and Paul Dano (Being Flynn), Chris Messina (Celeste & Jesse Forever, 2012), Annette Benning (The Kids Are All Right, 2010), Antonio Banderas (Desperado, 1995), and The Daily Show’s Aasif Mandvi as Cyrus Modi.  Elliot Gould, former husband to Barbra Streisand, plays therapist Dr. Rosenthal.  Written by Kazan, the movie was directed by Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton, the husband and wife behind Little Miss Sunshine.

It opens with Ruby (Kazan) in silhouette, walking forward, eventually asking Calvin (Dano) why he’s looking at her strangely.  He wakes up to his dog, Scotty, squeaking a chew toy.  Scotty the dog would urinate on his bed.

Calvin the novelist has writer’s block.  His therapist’s recommendation: write through it.  So he comes up with a character he has yet to name.  A “miracle,” she appears, but as real as can be, he has not caught on.

At first, Calvin is amazed that she doesn’t know the name of F. Scott Fitzgerald (Francis Scott Key).  It is when she takes a liking to his dog that a few key words come out: “I like him just the way he is.”  Calvin’s eyes light up.

Calvin quickly confirms the bond between his writing (via typewriter) and her actions, and starts thinking he’s had a melt-down.  Containing little, he proceeds to contact his brother, Harry (Messina).  Thinking Calvin has gone off the deep end, Harry, in a meeting, tells him to go see his therapist, or talk to a friend.  Calvin has no friends.

A bit uncomfortable around Ruby at first, Calvin’s past starts to emerge as he attempts to take Harry’s advice.  With no need to explain the phenomena that brought the fantasy to life, a bit of drama and a kiss splashes in his face that the woman of his dreams is real.

Bringing his girlfriend to see the mother, Gertrude (Benning), it takes Ruby to identify the happiness in Gertrude’s new relationship with Mort (Banderas).  Facing one amazing thing after another he decides to bury himself in a book.  Ups, downs, and sideways, his self-centered ideals would be clarified by his ex-girlfriend, Lila (Deborah Ann Woll), after running into her at the party that triggers a tailspin.

Once all is written and done, his fantastical experience would end his writer’s block.  The lesson of the story: the actual relationship between two can only be really seen and worked out between those two within the relationship.  He was stuck a one, a single.

The actors did a great job at bringing the characters to life.  Annette Benning’s first physical introduction as the mother would be nuts too—her face and hair filling the window, looking into the car when Calvin and Ruby arrived.  Kazan was forced to act out all of the wildness in her writing for Ruby, being pushed and pulled around at the hand of Calvin’s initial curiosity, quick fixes and release when things fractured.  And Mort’s chainsaw carving added some needed flavor.

Kazan did a good/okay job; some weak points stood out.  The punctuating “summary” featured Calvin making the excuse, I am not J.D. Salinger.  Not thorough in what was unleashed, you could tell that a young woman wrote the screenplay; Calvin the male wrote a few lines that a guy probably wouldn’t write, and everything was predictably contained.  Still, the semi-realistic fantasy is more or less enjoyable.  Grade: B+.

For more information, I covered some background on this movie in August.  One word to take away from the movie?  “Mindcest”: what Harry suggested having a family with her would sound like, once Calvin convinced him she’s real.

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