Suffering from writer’s block, twentysomething novelist Calvin (Dano) has never been able to follow up his well-received debut novel. Searching for inspiration and still reeling from a previous break-up, he begins to write about his idealised woman – Ruby Sparks (Kazan) – who then somehow manifests into the real world…
It’s somewhat ironic that Ruby Sparks deals with a talented author taking time to follow up a well-received debut, given that it’s been six years since Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris wowed us with their indie darling Little Miss Sunshine. Thankfully though, it’s been worth the wait, as the husband-and-wife directorial team’s second feature is every bit as charming, thoughtful and engaging as you might have hoped. Existing somewhere between the magic realism that Woody Allen occasionally employs and the meta fiction of Charlie Kaufman, its high-concept premise is brilliantly offbeat, as a novelist writes a female character into life while dealing with Difficult Second Album Syndrome.
But while lesser filmmakers would merely utilise such a premise as an excuse for quirky, whimsical rom-com antics, here it’s used to say something worthwhile about relationships. Written by Zoe Kazan (who also plays Ruby), Ruby Sparks offers some surprisingly insightful material about how our romantic ideals are jarringly different from the mess of reality. In short, how it’s important to see a person for who they are – and not who you want them to be (which will likely strike a chord with smart, introspective viewers).
In truth, things are slightly overdone as Ruby finds out what’s going on in the darker-than-expected third act, but this is just a momentary misstep. Plus, while Paul Dano is hardly a conventional romantic lead (scrawny, speccy, messy hair) he and real-life girlfriend Zoe Kazan are great together, with the latter purposefully playing up to the kooky, flighty, hipster Zooey Deschanel archetype. Elsewhere, Chris Messina features as Calvin’s brother and Steve Coogan pops up as sleazy intellectual.
Boasting a brilliantly offbeat high-concept premise, Ruby Sparks is charming, thoughtful, engaging and quite easily the best indie rom-com since (500) Days Of Summer.