The plot: Calvin (Paul Dano) is a 29-year novelist who wrote a hit novel 10 years ago and has since been struggling from writer’s block. He isolates himself in his apartment, and his only friend is his brother Harry (Chris Messina). On occasion, he visits his psychiatrist (Elliot Gould); he barely speaks to his mother (Annette Bening) or her boyfriend (Antonio Banderas). Calvin’s life changes when he wakes up from a dream in which he encounters a beautiful woman in a park. This gives him in the inspiration to start another story about the girl who he names ‘Ruby Sparks’. He finds himself falling in love with his own creation. One day, she is in his apartment as a flesh and blood woman who sees herself as his girlfriend.
This is a concept you just have to accept, there is no explanation. “Its love, its magic!” shouts Calvin. ‘Ruby Sparks’ deviates from the formulae of its rom-com trappings and raises some interesting philosophical questions. The first half of the picture about romantic fulfillment is light, fluffy, and delightful. The second half is very bleak – one scene in particular caused me physical pain to watch. The tonal shift from gentle to dark is seamless, and doesn’t suffer from a cinematic case of multi-personality disorder like most films do. We do know these two characters fall in love, but what happens after that? He created her – is it morally acceptable to tweak her according to how he sees fit? Or at the point when it becomes clear that she is an individual, should he stop writing and see how things pan out? At what point does nurturing become smothering? What exactly are his responsibilities – is this similar to that of a parent of a child? If I had this magical ability, how would I respond to these situations? How would I react to my psychological flaws in a relationship that I had been previously blinded to in creating this girl? Does this situation translate to the online world – do we create personas of who we want to be rather than who we are?
Few films this year engaged my brain as much as this one did. The premise may require a big leap of faith for some – I admit, I rolled my eyes initially, but quickly became involved in the lives of these characters. It isn’t completely far-fetched – authors become attached and form relationships with their fictional constructs. This picture reminded me of vintage Woody Allen, and Paul Dano is a good conduit for the Allen persona with his neurotic tics, and low-key style. His struggle as a writer is identifiable, especially in regards to the weight of success. Following up on a hugely successful project is no easy feat. Audiences have expectations which are always benchmarked by the quality of the artist’s previous work. Parallels can be drawn between the Paul Dano character and the directors (Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris) of this film. This is a follow-up to their first film, ‘Little Miss Sunshine’, which was well received by audiences and critics, and was a Best Picture nominee for the Motion Picture Academy in 2006.
The script was written by Zoe Kazan, the same person who plays the title character in the movie. This is a screenplay to savor, one whose subject matter is approached with a sensitive eye about the way men perceive women. Calvin’s brother states “You can do anything with her” – this includes making Ruby’s boobs bigger, and having her give him blow jobs. But, Calvin’s isolated character seems more interested in female companionship.
The last high-quality unconventional rom-com I saw was ‘500 Days of Summer’. I love that these two films challenge the mechanical aspects of their genres, but it is a shame that audience members have to wait every three years for such a film to appear. I would like to thank all of those involved in this project – both in front of and behind the camera. I can’t wait to see they do next. I’d consider *this* spark to be about 100,000 volts, which is substantial enough to resurrect a very tired genre.
– Jerry Nadarajah