Life can imitate art and vies versa. For novelist Calvin Weir-Fields, he’s still trying to figure out where his encounter with Ruby falls. What an audience can be certain about though is that Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’ Ruby Sparks always keeps things interesting.
Calvin (played by Paul Dano) is a neurotic character – as all movie writers usually are. From Nicolas Cage’s portrayal of Charlie and Donald Kaufman in Adaptation. to Woody Allen in any of his own films.
Dano channels more of Allen in this role that even calls on him to take a similar physicality as well as nervous mannerisms.
When the film isn’t trying to enchant you with mystery and romance, Ruby Sparks is quite the compelling character study of a man who is clueless.
Calvin has written a book that has been highly celebrated amongst literary lovers. Calvin wrote the book when he was 19; we meet him at age 29 and that praised book is still his only noteworthy accomplishment; but even he seems to be confused as to why so many people flock towards him with glowing reception.
He frequents a therapist, then stares at his typewriter as he tries to overcome his writer’s block for his second book, and is easily distracted when the phone rings.
Dano plays up a lot of these anxious ticks to much avail. We can’t help but feel sucked in and be transfixed by his nervousness and confusion. It’s only a couple of times, namely when Calvin meets Ruby, where Dano plays his role as a caricature rather than a realistic basket case.
Ruby (played by Zoe Kazan who also penned the screenplay) enters the picture quite suddenly. Calvin has only seen this outline of a girl in his dreams and she’s always on his mind whenever he needs a muse for inspiration.
When Ruby materializes one morning with no explanation, Calvin believes he’s still dreaming. It’s not until she touches him that he is convinced that this isn’t a fantasy.
He explains to his brother Harry (played by Chris Messina) about Ruby’s background and her mysterious appearance. After a very amusing experiment, the two brothers find out that whenever Calvin writes a new trait or an action of Ruby’s, it comes true.
Kazan is not only cute as a button and fits her role well but she’s written a very strong and authentic screenplay. She isn’t afraid to take risks with her characters or her audience. We love seeing Calvin and Ruby interact with one another and we’re drawn even more when Ruby’s character starts to change on her own. We’re even more captivated when Calvin starts to tweak her character to match his perfect vision only to throw her other emotions askew.
Whenever Kazan and the directorial duo go down a route we don’t expect, we don’t think these decisions were mishandled or executed poorly. We actually end up appreciating the screenwriter and the filmmakers for their attempts to spice the material up even more.
There’s a sequence heading towards the climax where truths are told and the film takes on a different and darker mood. This is probably the most prominent moment where the audience starts to get thrown curveballs.
Again, we never object to what we’re seeing on screen but rather commend the film on being risky. Actually, they’re directions and exchanges that warrant a re-watch because we can’t stop thinking about how these situations were handled. Knowing what we know now, we want to watch the performers with a different mind as they go for the layup.
Maybe that’s a good way to end this review because I can’t think of a higher compliment other than slapping a “best of” title on Ruby Sparks. It’s a film that immediately makes you want to go into a second viewing soon after the credits roll.
However, for the record, I don’t want to jump to that conclusion of calling it “one of the best movies of the year”. I’d much rather let the film soak in more. I may not know until the end of the year whether the movie gets a spot on that list but, for now, I’m very happy with how I think about Ruby Sparks at this moment.