Directors: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris.
Starring: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, Elliott Gould, Steve Coogan.
Written by: Zoe Kazan
Running Time: 104 mins
Release date: 12th October 2012
It has been 6 years since directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris made the surprise sleeper smash, Little Miss Sunshine. They haven’t rushed into their follow-up and in a way, its a good thing because Ruby Sparks, their new film, is a romantic delight.
Calvin is a lonely writer dealing with a heap of issues ever since writing his first book and being hailed a genius. His last partner left him days after his father died, he hasn’t managed to have another relationship since and he is suffering from writer’s block. Then he dreams of a woman called Ruby Sparks. It inspire him and he starts to write about her. One morning, he wakes to find her standing in his kitchen making breakfast. Believing she is in his imagination, he goes out only to find that other people can see her and that he has the power to control her moods, her ideas, even the things she says. But can it truly bring him happiness?
So it might not be the most original of ideas. A similar plot involving a writer controlling someone’s lives was used in the Will Ferrell comedy drama Stranger Than Fiction but what it lacks in originality, it makes up on pure charm, thanks to decent direction from Dayton and Faris, terrific leading performances and a delightful script from Ruby Sparks herself, Zoe Kazan.
Filled with sharp observations about modern relationships, Kazan has created a beautiful, safe world littered with likeable characters, even if some come across a little stereotypical. The film is saved by a long awaited lead role for the excellent Paul Dano. Playing the socially awkward yet hugely intelligent Calvin, he makes him less a man who uses his new found powers for purely a sexual reason and more like a hopeless romantic. It’s a beautifully pitched performance that not only deals with his neuroses but making him completely vulnerable.
Veterans Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas play Calvin’s mother and stepfather living as hippies in a plant-filled world where Banderas makes furniture from trees. This element of the film doesn’t quite work as we’ve seen these type of parents before. They do a fine job but it maybe they could have been something other than tree-huggers. Nice to see Elliott Gould back on the screen as Calvin’s psychiatrist while Chris Messina gets the best lines as Harry’s gym-loving, level-headed brother Harry. Steve Coogan also pops up as an egotistical fellow writer who tries to ride on Calvin’s fame while longing to destroy him.
Even though Dano is excellent the film, however, belongs to Kazan. With her striking blue eyes, she exudes loveliness. She is quirky, funny, dark and just captivating. It would have been easy to make Ruby as just kooky yet she has to comply to Calvin’s imagination and so Kazan handles each personality change with energy and joy. It’s a performance that will stay with you long after the film finishes and make Kazan an actress (and writer) to watch in the future.
This isn’t your run-of-the-mill romantic comedy. It is far deeper and sometimes darker than that, showing how relationships can go through those more difficult waves. The ending is a bit of a let-down and slightly spoils a near-perfect, unusual love story. Luckily the ending can be forgiven after such a delightfully charming movie.
If you liked Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind and could get your head around that, then you will love this. Moreso, you will fall for Zoe Kazan.