There are a few films that walk the fine line between independent and mainstream fare. “Ruby Sparks” is that lovely romantic comedy that gives us a little bit of both.
Paul Dano plays a novelist who writes about his dream girl, and Zoe Kazan, Dano’s real-life girlfriend, wrote the screenplay. If that’s not perfect enough, the married couple behind one of the most popular indie flicks of all-time, “Little Miss Sunshine,” directs the movie. A couple on-screen and a couple behind the camera makes “Ruby Sparks” one of the most romantic films of the year.
Calvin (Dano) is a successful novelist working on his next book. He's well known in the literary world and his fans and publisher are eagerly awaiting his next release. However, Calvin keeps encountering something that all novelists have experienced one time or another: writer's block. He fears his next book won't measure up, and he'll soon be forgotten in a world of one-hit wonder authors.
When Calvin sleeps, he dreams of this mysterious, redheaded girl, who eventually he names Ruby Sparks (Kazan). Ruby starts to inspire Calvin for his next novel, and each day he writes something new about her: where she grew up, her favorite pastimes, what she dislikes, down to the details of her favorite clothes.
One morning, Calvin walks downstairs to discover his dream girl is literally making eggs for him in the kitchen. Thinking he’s gone mad, Calvin calls his brother Harry (Chris Messina) suggesting it was his “overactive imagination” that caused this. But when Calvin soon realizes that Ruby is in fact living and breathing, he considers himself the luckiest man on Earth. Though Calvin can’t explain how Ruby came to life, his brother suggests “for men everywhere,” he should enjoy it while it lasts.
Calvin and Ruby are like two peas in a pod, always together, practically living with one another. He loves her and she is crazy about him, which begs the question: If you could create the love of your life, would you truly love her?
When Ruby asks Calvin to introduce her to his mother, he reluctantly agrees and the always-joyful Ruby is ecstatic. In an especially lively scene, we meet Calvin’s mother Gertrude (Annette Benning), who has embraced the hippie-lifestyle with her organic-eating partner Mort (Antonio Banderas). The two live in what looks like to be a well-constructed tree house, while they both enjoy pot and make furniture out of pieces of driftwood.
Soon after the meeting with Calvin’s parents, Ruby slowly begins to distance herself away from Calvin. He realizes that Ruby is starting to become her own person and less like his creation.
Not only are the actors incredible, the cinematography of the movie is breathtaking. The shots where we are originally introduced to Ruby in Calvin’s mind are beautifully lit and filmed. A dark figure in a flowing dress walks towards us and behind her is a bright yellow sky so dramatically lit, it feels like we are entering Calvin’s mind.
The movie progresses quite smoothly until a particular scene where the story takes a dark turn. As much as I think Dano and Kazan did an amazing job with the characters in that particular scene, it felt too jolted against the overall charming mood of the film.
Kazan, in her screenwriting debut, concocts an unusual and intriguing love story that she and Dano colorfully bring to life. Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris really found their niche with these indie flicks and have a long career ahead of them, if they wanted.