Screenwriter: Zoe Kazan
Length: 1h 44m
Synopsis: Calvin (Paul Dano) is a writer in his 20’s, widely considered to be a wunderkind by the literary community as a result of his great and early success with his first novel at age 19. He hasn’t had any successes since, and is trying to write through the personal shortcomings in his life. When he begins dreaming of the perfect girl (Zoe Kazan) that would help him get his life back together, he begins writing a new novel around her. As he writes he finds himself falling in love with her, even giving her a name: Ruby Sparks. One morning, he wakes to find that he has written his perfect character into existence, and must deal with the ramifications of bringing his fictional creation into the real world.
Analysis: There’s a certain type of responsibility an artist has towards his creation, which encompasses several arenas. The intent of the creation is obviously important, as it will influence the way we, as an audience, are meant to receive it and interpret it. This doesn’t just mean making sure the creation is helpful to a narrative or an overarching theme, but to the culture as a whole. What does it bring? Is it a benevolent portrait, or is it a hurtful one?
Ruby Sparks seems to be speaking to this idea, as well as several others, by putting it in the guise of a relationship fantasy. In it we watch Calvin, the writer, as he realizes and manipulates the power he has over his now-real fictional girlfriend, Ruby. Ultimately, he must decide whether it’s right for him to keep manipulating the situation, or let the creation have a life of its own. He must decide if making the person in the image he wants is a good thing, since he finds himself not molding a person to be received by an audience, but one to inhabit the real world. It’s a daunting task.
While the idea isn’t up front, it is presented via the central relationship, through which screenwriter Zoe Kazan is also able to discuss several other themes. These include power struggles in relationships and the regard in which one holds the opposite sex, which ultimately tie back into the idea of the artist’s responsibility. As we watch Calvin navigate his way through the many trials of being his lover’s creator, and see his actions reflect upon his personal insecurities, we as viewers are also faced with these issues and questions.
While it is certainly a film with some heavy themes, Ruby Sparks sets itself up to build to the moments that properly bring them out. It starts out fairly light, and establishes its magical realism fairly simply. It holds a certain tone of whimsy for some time, and doesn’t hesitate to treat Ruby’s sudden existence with some humor. And as with directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’s previous film, Little Miss Sunshine, it conveys darker, off-beat material with an element of comedy, but never lets it kill the weight at the center. The script itself flows well, and successfully uses its ideas as a through-line without killing the mechanics of its story. Kazan also makes good use of subtle character twists that never feel too overt, but still hit hard enough to successfully change the views we’re meant to have on any one character.
Intelligently using its central conceit to speak quietly on several interconnecting themes, Ruby Sparks is able to make a funny premise work as more than a joke. It makes heavy, sometimes challenging statements on relationships, art, and misogyny painted as admiration. It achieves the tricky feat of weaving these discussions into an entertaining and absorbing narrative without ever going beyond the boundaries of the magical atmosphere it sets. Ruby Sparks certainly has some heft, but is nevertheless wonderful and meaningful in its own magical way.