(If you’re curious, my review process is at the end of this post.)
(***all-purpose SPOILER ALERT*** there may be some in this review)
SW SCORE: 38
4 out of 5 🐙
Ruby Sparks is romcom/fantasy about Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano), a writer who wakes up after a vivid dream about a woman, Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan, who ironically is the writer of this film as well as being the star), and immediately begins to write a novel based on her. He’s very excited because he wrote a hugely acclaimed novel and he hasn’t been able to follow it up. He brings the first few chapters of his new Ruby-based book to his brother Harry for review. Harry is less than impressed. The dialogue Calvin has written between his protagonist, who is a thinly veiled avatar for himself, and Ruby is an archetype: crazy indie male fantasy; manic pixie with a bullet. It’s nonsense and Harry tells him so.
“Women are different up close…she’s a person. You haven’t written a person here.”
Harry is that classic romcom character: the cynical best friend. The cynical best friend is the same in every romcom. He or she mocks romantics and has little if no hope. He or she usually has the funniest lines, as well.
All of that is pretty non-fantastical. But here’s the kicker. And this isn’t really a spoiler because it’s the whole premise of the movie. The dream girl shows up on Calvin’s door…in real life.
Could it be a wildly improbable coincidence? Sure. But then, that wouldn’t be a very interesting premise. Things develop and it’s clear that Ruby is born from Calvin’s brain. When he realizes this, he rushes to his brother Harry’s (Chris Messina) to unburden himself of the secret. This big a secret cannot be kept, of course. And Harry tells him that he is nuts, but through a clever and simple demonstration, he proves it. That leads to this priceless exchange between the siblings:
Harry: “That was insane. You manifested a woman with your fucking mind.”
Calvin: “Stranger* things have happened.”
“I don’t think so. I think this is pretty much the strangest thing that has ever happened.”
*That’s an interesting choice of words because this movie does feel like the cousin of Stranger than Fiction, another fantasy/romcom wherein the protagonist must prove the existence of a supernatural persona to a critical supporting character.
As they spend more time together, Calvin’s perfect pixie starts to become less trope and more real person. This, you would think, would make Calvin happy. It does not. As she grows dimensionally, she wants more independence.
Ruby: “We’re not the same person!” (well…)
Ruby: “I’m not your child!” (well…)
Calvin begins to freak out and fear she will leave. He tries several unethical and often comical fantasy magicks to keep her two-dimensional. But it does not work well. And it’s not that he’s a two-dimensional monster. He knows it’s wrong. But he’s desperate. As Calvin tries to stop her, the movie gets darker and darker. The transition is remarkably well done by directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. What starts as a funny example of magic realism turns into a psychological minefield. And Dayton and Faris deftly handle the anguished descent by Calvin and the whirlwind of emotions screaming through Kazan. Both play complex roles very well.
Calvin: “I want to be what’s making her happy…without making her happy.”
Up to this point, Calvin seems like a guy who has just gotten in over his head, but his ex shows up and we find out something abut Calvin’s past that unfortunately predicts this present. As things do, they come to a climax that puts Calvin’s dark side versus his good side. It’s a very hard scene to watch. And I could make it easy for you and tell you that he chooses to do the right thing. And maybe he does. But you don’t want to know. Enjoy it.
One last nugget: Look for a charming appearance by Antonio Banderas and Annette Bening as Calvin’s hippie parents. Also, Elliott Gould makes a very brief appearance as Calvin’s psychologist and every movie is made better by his presence.
(1) Shark Wrighter (SW) Score: Based on a sum of 5 sub-scores (acting, directing, writing/story, effects: cinematography &/or animation &/or effects, editing) with 1 being terrible and 10 being terrific.
(2) Octopuses (0-5 🐙, with 5 being fantastic and 0 being feces)
(3) Octopuses are my unquantifiable feeling…not that SW score is scientific…but this one is even less so
(4) ++ This optional section includes any incredibly *brilliant observations that don’t fit into simple quantitative slices like the scores and octopuses *(they are likely NOT brilliant)