Published Aug 02, 2012It's a fairly recent screenwriting convention that every mopey, disaffected young man is blessed with an impossibly quirky and adorable dream woman ― see Garden State or anything with Zooey Deschanel for reference. So it's undoubtedly refreshing when our hero sits down at a typewriter and simply conjures the lovely vision of Ruby Sparks.
Calvin (Paul Dano) is a gifted novelist who has floundered since releasing his heralded debut, wallowing in a mire of loneliness and despair. He dreams of a beautiful girl backlit by the sun and is soon moved to write about her. It's to the film's credit that Ruby (Zoe Kazan) is merely there one day, not the product of a magical drawer or some enchanted typewriter. The logistics are not important.
Not being the sort of thing you want to tell everybody about, Calvin shares the information only with his brother, Harry (Chris Messina). Naturally, Ruby is nothing short of the ideal girlfriend and soon she is meeting Calvin's free-spirited mother (Annette Bening) and step-father (Antonio Banderas as the improbably named Mort) at Big Sur.
But, in time, Ruby loses interest, as real people often do, leaving Calvin with no choice but to sit back down at his desk and perform some character edits. This proves to be predictably unfulfilling, however, as how can it ever be possible to truly love someone who is a mere projection of what we only imagine we desire?
Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine) strike a fanciful tone that may not find as much humour as one would expect from the situation, but instead chooses to use the premise as more of a serious exploration of relationships and the subtle ways they alter those involved.
Kazan, in addition to possessing a magnetic screen presence, also wrote the screenplay, displaying the many talents she inherited from her filmmaking father, Nicholas (Reversal of Fortune), and grandfather, Elia (On The Waterfront). Dano (Kazan's real-life boyfriend) doesn't have to stretch much from what we have come to expect from him, but grounds the film in a solid reality.
And yet there remains the sense of missed opportunity. The story hits all of the necessary beats, while Ruby remains little more than the caricature she is all but required to be. As she chastises Calvin for not having any friends, we wonder if she is aware that she has quite an underwritten backstory herself. (Fox)