Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) is your stereotypical brilliant-but-troubled writer. His first (and only) novel became an American sensation when he was only 19 years old and that success has haunted him ever since. Friendless and lonely, Calvin spends almost all of his time with his brother Harry (Chris Messina) or in the office of his shrink (Elliot Gould) who also happens to be his father. His chronic writer’s block begins to clear, however, after a dream and he spends one glorious and productive night writing a story about a manic pixie dream girl named Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan). But just when his story begins to get good, he awakens to find Ruby in his kitchen, a manifestation of his mind that walks, talks, breathes, etc. like any other human. Calvin and Ruby embark upon what seems like a wonderful journey together, made complicated by the fact that Calvin can control Ruby’s emotions, actions, and behaviors simply by typing them out. For the most part, Ruby Sparks is a harmless, fun, and quirky tale that comes equipped with some quality performances. It’s an interesting concept that certainly borrows at times from other films and stories but still manages to come across as fresh. It is often playful and it takes its subject matter lightly which in turn makes Ruby Sparks enjoyable if not particularly noteworthy. The conclusion ventures into significantly darker territory and to be honest with you I’m still not entirely sure if that works for it or not. It is a definite departure from just about everything else the film brands itself as throughout the first two and a half acts. At the same time, Calvin’s melancholy nature does lend itself to the character having an edgier side and that certainly comes out as the film draws to a close. Part of me would have liked to have seen Ruby Sparks take a more dramatic, darker approach to its subject throughout its runtime rather that coming to that place in a rather abrupt manner but then this would have been a decidedly different film and much of its charm would have been lost.
The cast of Ruby Sparks does an excellent job of adding depth and value to characters that are fairly thin on paper. They are all made up of stereotypes and generic traits but Dano, Messina, and Kazan all bring some weight to their roles that make the film much more substantially than it would have been otherwise. Dano is superb, hitting the “troubled loner” nail right on the head. He personifies the right balance between successful and fear of further success, as well as a desperate need for attention, love, companionship, etc. Calvin is much the same as Dano's character from Being Flynn in many ways but his performance here is much stronger. Messina, whose career is absolutely taking off between The Newsroom, The Mindy Project, and his small role in Argo, gives his character a slight air of seediness without becoming the overdone, “Just use this for sex!!!” guy that I kind of expected. For me the best scene in the movie is of Messina’s reaction to realizing the implications of Ruby’s existence. It’s funny and perfectly measured. Kazan, who also wrote the film, is cute and charming and touches on each of the emotions Ruby goes through appropriately. I very much look forward to seeing what she has in store for us in the future, both on screen and behind the camera.
Overall, Ruby Sparks does what it sets out to do and brings together an interesting and quirky narrative nicely. It’s nothing that I would consider particularly special or far-reaching in its aspirations but it is a nice little film that should go over well with most viewers.
Ruby Sparks Directors: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris Cast: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Chris Messina Rated: R (language, some innuendo) Recommended For: Fans of quirky, indie movies 16 and up