Film Review: RUBY SPARKS (directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris)

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by Kevin Bowen on August 11, 2012

in Film


We’ve been struck by an invasion of Zoes: Owl-eyed ingénues with perky, quirky, life-embracing formulas for living, whose purpose is to brighten the lives of pasty young men needing sunshine in both body and soul. The Zoe in question in Ruby Sparks is Zoe Kazan, not only its star, but its writer as well. In a strange round of meta-fictional Twister, she has written a story about a writer who writes a novel about her character. Boxes in boxes, that sort of thing.

Calvin, a shy and currently unproductive writer (Paul Dano), imagines the girl of his dreams on paper. Soon she appears in flesh, blood, and a kitchen apron. He wishes for her so hard that she comes to life. Weird Science? No, just weird Liberal Arts.

The problem for Calvin is that building his dream girl wasn’t actually his act, but that of his narrator, his dream self; he conjures not the girl who would fit who he is, but the girl who would fit the man he wants to be. Most people who live deeply in their own heads imagine dream girls they could never handle in real life. Such is the case with Ruby, whose freewheeling spirit soon turns his life upside down.

Ruby Sparks dabbles with themes last seen in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: In relationships, personality is destiny; our reasons for attraction are often the same reasons that we cannot tolerate each other. And there’s no way to change that.

Kevin Bowen's Stage and Cinema review of RUBY SPARKS

The makers of Ruby Sparks have a heartfelt desire to deliver a romantic comedy that’s a little bit off-center. Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris—of Little Miss Sunshine notoriety—bring a quirky hipster vibe and a better sense of composition than that with which they have previously been credited. Kazan’s script is witty and playful, if not truly insightful.

Films that are sourced from the male protagonist’s fantasy vision are known among critics and cineastes as “male gaze” or “manic pixie dream girl.” Serious-minded viewers may toss about such critical phrases to describe Ruby Sparks, but most moviegoers will simply see it as “date night for smart people.” Ruby Sparks has that latter formula down, although it never reaches much beyond.  It’s a sincere, literate film—even as it lacks the ambitious aspect necessary to make it truly memorable.

Ruby Sparks
rated R
now playing nationwide

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