Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) is still living off the success of his first novel which was published when he was still in his teens. Ten years on he is struggling to write despite having no friends to distract him. In an attempt to help him open up his shrink (Elliot Gould) tells him to write a few pages about whatever comes to mind. After waking from a recurring dream about an enchanting woman, Calvin finds that he can’t stop writing. His writing comes to a halt though one morning when he wakes up to find his literary creation Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan) is alive and in his kitchen making eggs. Has he gone insane or has his character really jumped off the page and into his life?
The trailer for Ruby Sparks was excellent and I was really looking forward to the film. It had the sort of buzz that accompanied Little Miss Sunshine and looked to be a quirky and funny indie comedy of the sort that I’m very fond of. Now I’ve seen the film I can attest that the trailer is even better that I thought as it trails a film which doesn’t quite live up to the advert and certainly isn’t as funny as advertised.
Although there are several funny moments and plenty of witty, well written dialogue, the film is much more of a drama-comedy than comedy-drama. Instead of being a knockabout comedy about a man living with his own creation, Ruby Sparks is an examination of the male ego, idealised people and control. It is packaged in an eccentric and attractive wrapper but underneath it is much deeper and darker than the trailer suggests. The final third gets incredibly dark and serious and one scene in particular had my heart pounding and made me quite anxious. Much like any film about a new relationship, there are plenty of ups to begin with, followed by expected downs. The characters and narrative are very well written by lead actress Zoe Kazan, following on from fellow indie stalwart Brit Marking (Another Earth) in showing that if the roles aren’t forthcoming then why not write one that’s perfect for you. And Kazan is pretty much perfect for the role of Ruby. The idealised version of her character is pretty, light, quirk and effervescent but she has the acting and writing ability to be able to turn all of this on its head when need be for the darker moments. On a side note I thought Ruby was the best dressed female character I’ve seen all year.
Despite enjoying the film when I was watching it and liking it more, the more I think about it, I left the cinema feeling a bit underwhelmed. I can’t quite put my finger on why but it may be a combination of various things. Firstly the film wasn’t funny enough. Secondly it was far too pleased with itself and much too quirky. It must be hitting about a 6.9 on the Deschanel Scale for quirkiness. Finally it ended far too neatly for me although the ending is left open for two possible explanations which I did like. Where the film is successful is in its depiction of the control one person can have over another and although it is a much heightened version, it is quite scary at times. Paul Dano, who is very good throughout, takes on the air of a horror villain in later scenes, talking in a quiet monotone as he humiliates and mentally destroys Ruby. The film’s messages about reducing people to an idea or a concept come across very strongly and remain with you.
The film’s look is very appealing. It is crisp and clean and features some great wardrobe and interesting set design. Calvin’s white, cavernous house matches his personality, while his mother’s is like a jungle maze, littered with religious relics and crazy Spaniards. As I’ve mentioned previously, Ruby’s dress sense is right up my street while Calvin has the whole Woody Allen thing going on, something which matches his character and the film to some extent. The soundtrack is great to listen to. I’m always up for a blast of Plastic Bertrand’s Ca Plane Pour Moi but although I enjoyed listening to the soundtrack it sometimes felt like the film was trying too hard to be different or unusual and almost every song was either French or classical. There is nothing wrong with that but it just adds to the quirkiness which is sometimes a little grating.
Overall Ruby Sparks isn’t the film I thought it was going to be but is fine. It isn’t a laugh a minute comedy but brings up some dark ideas which it confronts you with in a capable manner. The script is good and the acting, especially from the two leads, excellent. Subtle changes may catch you unaware and while you’re enjoying one of the lighter moments or enjoying Kazan’s smile, they may take you by surprise and wife the smile off your face in an instant. In the end though the film is a little bit forgettable, to the extent that when asked by three different people what I saw at the cinema last night, I struggled to remember each time.