Ruby Sparks (2012)
Dir: Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris
“It’s like that movie ‘Harvey’, except she’s not a giant rabbit!”
To me it was more like ‘Stranger than Fiction’ and a little bit like ‘Weird Science’!
Calvin (Paul Dano), a young author who made a big name for himself with his first novel, is struggling to get anywhere with another, until his therapist (Elliott Gould) sets him the task of writing just for therapeutic reasons, and he writes about a girl who he dreams of, Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan). This really excites Calvin who gets engrossed in his new character, so much so that he somehow wills her into existence, and he wakes up to find her physically in his kitchen making breakfast! Eventually accepting she is not just in his head, Calvin introduces her to his family including his brother (Chris Messina), mother (Annette Bening) and step-father (Antonio Banderas), as Calvin starts having a real but complex romantic relationship with this seemingly ideal woman who is the product of his dreams, and whatever he chooses to write about her.
The film was actually written by star Zoe Kazan, which I suppose helps to deflect any of the obvious criticisms of misogyny or suchlike. Has a small similarity with something like ‘Ted’ in that such a magical thing occurs, and although people marvel at it for a while, they don’t over-analyze matters so as to stipulate exactly how it happens. There’s nothing wrong with that, to explain it too explicitly would spoil some of the fun of the premise, and the audience is at times reminded of the fact that Ruby exists from Calvin’s imagination enough to keep that as a consideration.
One of the biggest strengths of the film is the great supporting cast, with Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas in small but fun roles as Calvin’s family. There’s also Steve Coogan in a small role as a sleazy publisher, and I personally find Coogan best in those little parts he often takes in films, small doses are fine.
The stand-out supporting performance however is from Calvin’s brother Harry, Chris Messina steals all the scenes he’s in. One particularly fun scene with him sees Calvin trying to tell him about his first dream of Ruby where Harry asks what happened in the dream expecting something saucy, yet when Calvin says “She Talked to me!”, he replies “That’s depressing”. Small moments like this articulate their dynamic easily.
It is also Harry who points out the main twist to the idea, that Calvin can change Ruby in real-time just by typing something more about her on his typewriter. There’s a very clever use of the typewriter ping being reminiscent of a microwave oven, when is sounds it’s a signal that things are ready, and Ruby has instantly changed.
It’s this element of the story that gets surprisingly dark for a bit. At times his changes to her are just things like making her speak French, but soon turn into modifying her behaviour, at times to the extreme so she is completely dependent on him and won’t leave his side, indeed cannot do so. When all this comes to a climax the scene is shockingly intense and I was really taken aback, as his cruelly toying with her shows that it’s not her who needs to change, but him.
Given that things become so intense with that, it’s difficult to see how to end the film well, but I personally thought that the ending is really very satisfying.
So… If the woman you write about turns up in your house, then my next review should really be about Jennifer Lawrence!