The Movie Date is a weekly feature where we discuss movies that may appeal to the YA audience. Andrew is The Reading Date’s resident movie critic and this week he discusses Ruby Sparks, directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris.
A lonely, creatively blocked author is inspired to write about an ideal woman he meets in his dreams—and finds he has brought her to life.
I’ve written about the “manic pixie dream girl” film cliché before: bubbly, capricious young woman uses humor and love to help struggling man through rough patch. (See Elizabethtown, Yes Man, (500) Days of Summer, Garden State, Lost In Translation…) In the best of these cases, the woman develops problems and complexities of her own (as in Beginners, reviewed here), and thankfully that’s exactly what happens here. Though she’s quite literally a “dream girl,” Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan) has no idea she’s a writer’s construct; rather she simply turns up in the apartment of author Calvin (Paul Dano) one day, acting as if they’ve been living together for months. This in itself is refreshing; by avoiding the “meet-cute” first encounter that appears in nearly all rom-coms, the film is free to analyze the much more interesting world of evolving relationships, asking in effect “You’ve met the love of your life—now what?”
Once he recovers from the shock of seeing his ideal woman in the real world, he accepts her reality. But what will happen if he tries to change her somehow? He impulsively types a sentence or two on the end of his manuscript, indicating that Ruby speaks French, and is stunned to hear her speaking the language masterfully. He swears off any further alterations to his love and their romance blossoms. But when she develops a life outside of their apartment and isn’t around for him, he wonders: should he maybe tweak her, just a little?
Though Calvin’s part and performance seemed less than credible at times, this is not only a funny and bittersweet story but a thought-provoking one. The plot construct is of course a clever inversion of the 2006 film Stranger than Fiction, in which Will Ferrell plays an author’s creation who rebels against the plot he’s assigned. Here we address the intriguing dilemma the author experiences, which is one everyone in a relationship might ask themselves: if you had the power to change something about your partner, would you?
The film also feels like a Woody Allen movie: it probes the line between fantasy and reality, it takes place in the highbrow literary world, and it features a nebbish, bespectacled, baffled lead male. (If you liked Midnight in Paris, you’ll probably like this.) Somewhat surprisingly, this is actually the creative work of a woman: Zoe Kazan, the actress playing Ruby, wrote the script as well. She writes some wild mood swings for her character (created by Calvin) that only she could play. I first came across Kazan in this funny, ethically tortured article by LA Times movie critic Kenneth Turan. Since reading that, I’ve been curious to experience her acting skills, and I’m happy to say she’s a force to be reckoned with: lovely, wistful, and deep as the ocean. As a writer-actress, the only one controlling Kazan’s destiny is herself, and she couldn’t be in better hands.
Ruby Sparks is rated R and now available on home video and DVD.