RUBY SPARKS charmed about 3/4 of the critics who reviewed it, while hard-sells discounted the 2012 fantasy-comedy as too cute, or as a vanity project for its star couple. Going in I thought it might be one of those irritatingly quirky indie rom-coms that would wear out welcome before the Act 2, but instead was pulled further along as it went, and ultimately won over. The vanity vehicle sneer wasn’t deserved, as real-life couple Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan—they star, she wrote it—have acting chops, charm and smarts. They turned direction over to Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who six years earlier worked then-co-star Dano in that fun number called Little Miss Sunshine. *
Approaching thirty and unhappily single, writer ‘Calvin Weir-Fields (Dano, 28) adds writers block to his angst, not having matched his first novel’s success when he was a teenager. A dream about meeting a strange and intriguing woman inspires him to write about her, a wish-for character he calls ‘Ruby Sparks’. Fiction fancy flips into full-fledged fruition when Calvin wakes one morning to find written-Ruby revealed as real (Kazan, 28), alive and in his kitchen. Meeting relatives causes problems (well, duh), and Calvin grows jealous of Ruby’s ease with people other than himself. Saying more spills too many beans, suffice that Calvin has written Ruby and himself into an existential cul de sac.
RUBY: “What’s your dog’s name?” CALVIN: “Uh, Scotty. I named him for F. Scott Fitzgerald.”RUBY: “Isn’t that disrespectful?” CALVIN: “What?” RUBY: “Naming your dog after him? It’s a little disrespectful. Think about it. You’re a novelist. You think this guy’s the greatest. So you name your dog after him to cut him down to size. This way, you can put him on a leash… and yell “Bad Scotty” and feel all superior because you pee inside. Kill your idols, man. I’m all for it.”
Appealing as an actress, winsome without being Too Precious (she has a fabulous pair of eyes), Kazan the screenwriter present’s a dab of less-anxious Woody Allen (The Purple Rose of Cairo) or Albert Brooks, a dash of less-silly John Hughes or Harold Ramis, blended here into the careful-what-you-wish-for cautionary web you might find from The Twilight Zone. Her initial idea for the script when she saw a discarded mannequin in a dumpster behind a Macy’s; she and partner Dano turned it into a neat little twist on relationship dynamics, and the trip wire of idealization, with a well-handled turn into serious mode when reality eventually knocks for payment. Nice finale tops it off.
Done with economy for $8,000,000, it failed to spark enough public patronage, with a $9,368,803 take hiding it in 165th place back in ’12. With welcome support from Annette Bening, Steve Coogan, Elliott Gould, Antonio Banderas, Toni Trucks, Deborah Ann Woll and Aasif Mandvi. 104 minutes.
* Kazan: ““I’m very girly. I’ve been girly since day one. There’s not an ounce of tomboy in me. All of my traits are considered girly. I was always the nurturing kid who took in strays and comforted broken hearts. But being girly led to relationships where the guy has a very strong idea of me, but its an idea that’s only appropriate for a doll. Just because I’m girly doesn’t mean I’m a lost little girl. I hate that you’re either little lost girl or you’re a bitch who doesn’t need men or you’re a nurturing, motherly type. I have all those things inside me. Who doesn’t?”