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Dan's Review: Ruby Sparks

Some characters really do jump off the page.
Ruby Sparks (Fox Searchlight)

Rated R for language including some sexual references, and for some drug use.

Starring Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Chris Messina, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, Aasif Mandvi, Steve Coogan, Toni Trucks, Deborah Ann Woll, Elliott Gould, Alia Shawkat.

Written by Zoe Kazan.

Directed by Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris.

GRADE: A-

REVIEW:


I've had writer's block. It's terrible. In fact, I had it right before I started writing this very review, which I began yesterday, but am finishing today. They say the only cure for writer's block is writing, which is why you're able to read this today, instead of later. Writer's block is the premise for Ruby Sparks, the story of an author's search for the perfect girlfriend.

Paul Dano plays Calvin, a "genius" author who scored a big hit while in his youth, but has lived in the shadow of his own success in the decade since. Calvin seeks the help of  therapist Dr. Rosenthal (Elliot Gould) who tries to help sort out some of the author's psychological issues, including the death of his father. At the same time, Calvin also has dreams of a fictional woman with red hair. Rosenthal assigns Calvin the task of writing a description of this woman to help with his therapy.

Calvin begins to write about the woman he names Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan), and begins to fall in love with her. One day, he discovers that Ruby has come to life as his real girlfriend, and has to deal with the surreal consequences, including explaining her to his brother Harry (Chris Messina) and others. Once he accepts that Ruby is real, Calvin falls deeper in love with her and eventually introduces her to his mother and stepfather (Annette Benning and Antonio Banderas), two middle aged hippes living in their own Utopian Big Sur hideout.

But everything is not perfect, especially for Ruby, who begins to feel smothered by Calvin's complacency with having the perfect girlfriend. Ruby begins to be drawn away from Calvin and is on the brink of leaving him altogether when Calvin remembers that he is her author and therefore able to "write away" her little flaws, change specific behavior or alter her personality.

Calvin's plan backfires when he makes Ruby too needy, too happy, or too devoted to him. He eventually is forced to reveal his writing powers to Ruby, who is heartbroken. Calvin must decide whether it's better to control Ruby for his own whims, or set her free.

Ruby Sparks is a sweet, clever, unique and romantic film with great performances from Kazan (who also wrote screenplay) and Dano (who also gets an executive producer credit). The supporting cast of Messina, Benning and Banderas are equally engaging. Even though it bears a small resemblance to Will Ferrell's Stranger Than Fiction (2006), Ruby Sparks has a lot to say about the people we love. our own selfish needs, and the gift of liberty.

There are a few moments where the film slows down as the main characters the same emotional merry-go-round a few too many times, but these minor flaws can be easily overlooked.

I can't say enough nice things about Kazan, whose breakout performance as Ruby Sparks should jump start her burgeoning career. It's also nice to see talented people like Kazan and Dano be able to create original stories for the cinema, a rare feat in the Hollywood re-tread era.


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