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Saturday, October 6, 2012

Ruby Sparks

Romantic comedies, they're like buses...


Now, admittedly, Ruby Sparks is more of a drama than a comedy and more of a character study than a classic romance, but considering how rare it is to come across a genuinely good movie that can, in some way at least, be classified as a romantic comedy, I'm going to count this as a win for that particularly benighted genre.

Based off a high-concept that could easily come out of the early days of Woody Allen's back catalogue, Ruby Sparks tells the story of a lonely writer who starts writing about the girl of his dreams, only to find that she has miraculously leaped off the page and into his lap. The film initially comes off as a light, playful screwball comedy about a guy who literally creates the girl of his dreams before moving into far darker, far more intriguing territory that explores the very idea of a "dream mate" and how what you want may not really be what you need, or for that matter what you want.

Based on a cracking script from lead actress and screenwriter Zoe Kazan - shockingly, her first - Ruby Sparks is an undoubtedly flawed work that features an immensely unlikable central character and a tonal inconsistency that comes with so versatile a high concept, but it is also a gripping, intriguing, moving and thought provoking gem of a film that is as likely to disturb as it is to delight.



It's interesting that some have complained that Kazan has effectively written herself as somebody's dream girl, but they're obviously missing the point. Her eponymous "character", is meant to represent a particular "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" that doesn't really exist and is primarily a cipher for the male lead's sexual and romantic fixations. She's excellent in the role, but the film isn't really about her - nor, for that matter, is it even about her romance with the lead character.

Despite the title, Ruby Sparks is all about Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano, in typically fine form), an immensely gifted young writer who is unable to come up with a followup to his acclaimed first novel and whose personal life primarily consists of hanging out with his smarmy brother (Chris Messina, who is quickly becoming the go to guy for smug unlikeability). Calvin is not someone who is easy to root for. He's a prickly, abrasive ultra-introvert who would be considered a narcissist, if not for the fact that narcissism does require at least some ability to love, even if the object of one's affection is oneself.

That said, Kazan's screenplay goes to a not-small-amount of trouble to make Dano's character complex and understandable, if not necessarily sympathetic and even if most of us can't relate to him at the beginning of the film, the journey he goes through does make Calvin more likable, even more relatable. His character arc is also played with subtlety and enough authenticity to ensure that it never feels forced or artificial. It's also fascinating to note that at his most romantic, Calvin is at his most solipsistic and his most dangerous - it's only once he starts to see women as something more than mere objects of his affection that he starts treating them as people deserving of being worthy of affection.      

Ruby Sparks may not always be the easiest movie to like but there are few films on circuit at the moment that are even half this gripping, this human, this funny and this rewarding. And, not to dismiss the work of directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, it's also a film that introduces us to a sensational new writing talent in the form of Zoe Kazan. I, for one, can't wait to see what she does next.


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