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.
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“If you had the opportunity to control (your partner), would you take it?
What’s the logical end to that scenario?”
Ruby Sparks is the R-rated coming-of-reality story of an introverted man and the character he’s written come to life. The “fractured fantasy,” with satirical elements is both sweet and creepy, as Ruby, the colorful woman of Calvin’s literary, boredom-solving and hole-filling dreams, starts to physically rewrite herself after the initial appeal wears and their ideals clash.
The film stars two twenty-eight-year-olds: the film’s writer, Zoe Kazan, and her off-screen boyfriend of five years, Paul Dano. The parents (Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas) have their own “transformation dilemma,” but with real influences, not alterations via pen or pencil. From the start, Ruby isn’t real; but the consequences are, and Sparks takes on the challenge that separates itself from movies like 500 Days of Summer without, of course venturing off into sci-fi or horror. (It’s a comedy with only one unreal factor.)
Directed by the married couple that did Little Miss Sunshine, Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton, Ruby Sparks is the first deal in a while that didn’t go wrong. “I couldn’t fathom the idea of coming out with anything I loved less,” Dayton said to Colin Covert, of McClatchy Newspapers. “A film is two years of your life, so you’d better love it deeply and be ready to carry it with you the rest of your life.”
Part of the story’s focus is on a relationship’s losses: the loss of self during, and its end. “I have felt very defined by the person I’m with, by their idea of love and of a person worth loving,” Kazan said to Covert. “In the effort to live up to that in previous relationships, I’ve lost track of myself a little.”
The fantasy of the lover is the reason for the missing background for Ruby. “I feel like we all start with the idea of a person before we get to know them as we fall in love, but it feels somehow different for men than it is for women. That’s reflected in our culture in a movie … where you see the man’s perspective on the relationship and not so much the woman’s.”