Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Ruby Sparks (2012) - Movie Review

How much easier would dating be if you could just dream your ideal woman/man into existence?

When we first see Calvin (Paul Dano) wake up in his very nice, Los Angeles pad, I was worried that this was going to be yet another movie where someone is somehow living in an expensive place well beyond their means.  This has always been a huge pet peeve of mine in movies. That's actually not the case here, as we learn that Calvin is an author that had the fortune of writing a very successful novel at a young age.

Calvin lives alone, and recently had a bad break-up.  His only real friend is his brother, and he went as far to get a dog to help him socialize.  This hasn't helped though, as his dog is scared of strangers.  His therapist (Elliott Gould), trying to help him through a bad case of writers block, gives him a simple writing assignment.  Calvin's been having a recurring dream about a mystery woman, so he begins to write about her.  Newly inspired, he flushes this character out to the point where she feels real and starts to fall in love with her.

One day, he wakes to find this girl, Ruby Sparks, in his kitchen having breakfast.  The movie never explains how or why, other than basically explaining away it away as magic.  They don't really fixate on this though, and the movie just asks you to go with it.  Calvin initially thinks he's going insane and Ruby is a product of his imagination, but he quickly realizes that she's real and is exactly how he's written her.

Writer Zoe Kazan, who also plays the title character, took a pretty interesting concept and played around with it.  She took the indie movie trope of the quirky, dream girl and put her in a normal relationship.  Things are great until you realize that Calvin really isn't all that great of a boyfriend. He's possessive, socially awkward and not very outgoing.  Ruby starts to get bored and attempts to make her own friends and do things on her own.  Unable to deal with this, Calvin tries to change Ruby.  At this point, the movie takes a turn for the dark and a little creepy.  You genuinely feel bad for Ruby the more Calvin interferes.

The film gets a nice boost from all of the supporting characters.  Calvin's brother, Harry, played by Chris Messina, has a lot of fun being the only other person that's aware of Ruby's true origins. There's another great part of the movie where they all go visit Calvin's mother (Annette Bening) and her current boyfriend (Antonio Banderas).  They are all just having fun enjoying life, except for Calvin, who does nothing but read and seem embarrassed by his family.  It's really hard to like Calvin at this point.  Steve Coogan has a small role and I always enjoy seeing him.

Paul Dano is an actor I've never quite been able to get into.  I just don't see what it is about him. However, I think this was a role tailor made for him and he did a good job with the rule.  I also came away really liking Zoe Kazan's performance.  Her script forces her to be all over the place as her character changes, and she showed a lot of range.  While not 'conventionally beautiful', she has a special quality about her, and it's hard to take your eyes off her anytime she's on screen.

One of the cool things about Ruby Sparks is there are a lot of different ways you can look at this movie.  It's very smart in that regard.  For me, the movie was as much about how flawed Calvin is and his idea of an ideal girl, as it is about Ruby.  Nobody is perfect, not your current girlfriend, and not your ex, even when she's "Baby Jessica" from True Blood (Deborah Ann Woll).  Trying to forcibly change them never has good results.

After a six-year hiatus from directing Little Miss SunshineJonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris are back to direct Ruby Sparks.  I'm not sure why they took so much time off from directing, but I hope they continue to make films.  This is someone from someone that is in the small minority of people really didn't like Little Miss Sunshine.

My biggest problem with the movie is that it leads up to an ending, which while cute, didn't feel earned and I think it undermined the film a bit.  I would have preferred an ending that was a little more in line with the rest of the film's tone.

I really enjoyed Ruby Sparks.  It's one of those movies that kind of sticks with you, and I'm still thinking about it days after.  This is one of the smarter, and despite the magic element, more realasitc looks at romance and relationships that you're going to see this year.  Sure, it can be a little dark at times, but it's still something you can have fun with.  As this is in limited release, most of you likely won't have a change to see this in the theater, unless you have access to a place like The Vine.  It's worth a matinee, but I highly recommend renting this otherwise.

4 (out of 5) Death Stars

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