Ruby Sparks

Ruby Sparks

It's been six years since directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (their background is in music videos) sprung their debut film, Little Miss Sunshine, on audiences and Oscar voters. Their second feature, Ruby Sparks, with a sharply witty and poignant script by Zoe Kazan, is another scrappy human comedy that stays admirably allergic to sappy. Kazan, a strikingly gifted actress who called film and theater icon Elia Kazan grandpa, stars as Ruby Sparks, a dream girl in the eyes of Calvin (Paul Dano). No wonder: Calvin wrote her that way. A novelist who scored a Salinger-like success with the debut novel he wrote as a teen, Calvin now suffers from writer's block and romance stasis. When his therapist (Elliott Gould) gives Calvin a one-page writing assignment, Calvin comes up with a muse in the form of Ruby. Then he meets her, for real, in a park. When Ruby isn't all he wants, he heads to his portable typewriter and shapes her just by tapping a few keys. It's a delicate comic premise that doesn't get sabotaged by crude. The married Dayton and Faris have cast Kazan and Dano, also a real-life couple, in a movie about the power shifts in any relationship. Calvin can't keep his secret to himself, showing his brother Harry (Chris Messina) how he can type Ruby to fit his needs. But when Calvin takes Ruby to meet his free-spirited mother (Annette Bening) and her artist lover (Antonio Banderas), she jumps off his literary leash to stand as her own woman. The result is something you won't see coming. Don't look for sweet and embraceable. This movie is not afraid to show its claws. Like the spirited teamwork of Kazan and Dano, Ruby Sparks is honest, deep and true.

From The Archives Issue 1163: August 16, 2012