“Ruby Sparks” is about a man who dreams up a girl that comes to life, for no apparent reason. If that premise was in different hands (if say, Adam Sandler was producing and starring in it) “Ruby Sparks” could easily be turned into a stupid, ill inspired raunchy comedy. Instead directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris and even screenwriter Zoe Kazan (who also stars in it) treat the material delicately, giving it indie-comedy quirkiness. This is a good and bad thing. Good because the movie itself can be funny but also intelligent and touching. Bad because it has a tendency to use the usual brand of indie- movie clichés (yes, those exist), making it feel a little too hoity-toity and even pretentious at times.
Paul Dano (humble, benevolent and a little dorky as always) plays the lucky dreamer, Calvin Weir-Fields. Calvin is an author struggling with writers block. He found early writing success when he wrote a best selling novel in his teens and now he’s feeling the pressure from his editor and his newfound writing friends. Not only that, he’s always being hassled by his slightly arrogant, sporty/businessman brother Harry (Chris Messina) and he has a bit of an ego, so he’s not exactly a ladies’ man. Even though they want him.
One night he has a dream that he encounters a cute, red-headed girl, who understands him perfectly. (Why shouldn’t she, she’s part of his imagination after all.) So the next morning, he goes to his typewriter (yeah, a typewriter, why? Because this is an indie comedy) and begins writing a novel about her, giving her the name Ruby Sparks. Ruby was born in Dayton, Ohio, she doesn’t have good relations with her parents, one of her biggest relationships was with her college professor, and she likes to do art. In other words Calvin’s dream girl is a typical indie rom-com girl. But then, before he knows it, he finds Ruby (Kazan) in his kitchen making eggs. Calvin can’t believe it. Ruby is flesh and blood, not imaginary. People can see and interact with her. Kazan’s script never explains how Ruby came to be, which is for the best. Like with “Midnight in Paris” an explanation would only bog the story down.
Anyway, things get off to an agreeable start. Calvin invites Harry over for dinner, and he acknowledges that Ruby does in fact exist. The scene is also where Calvin finds out he can tinker with Ruby if he wants to by writing. This leads to a few laughs, like when Calvin gives her the ability to speak French all of a sudden. And for a little while the film finds itself in a nice little groove. Kazan, for the most part, gives a gentle, dopey-eyed performance, even though her acts and emotions are affected directly by the movie’s events. Whatever Calvin writes, she does.
However, at the same time the movie is filled with little quirky clichés that can get annoying. Besides the aforementioned description of the Ruby Sparks character and the typewriter there are also things like The Night Out Montage, where Calvin and Ruby go to variety of clubs and bars and have giddy fun, all to the tune of generic indie music. Or there’s a scene where the two just decide to joyously run on a beach, holding hands.
And then at a certain point—I think it comes right after Calvin and Ruby go out and meet Calvin’s stereotypically kooky, free spirited parents, played by Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas—the entire movie loses its footing. Ruby starts to blend into the real world too much, and the two become distant. So Calvin goes back to the typewriter and begins to tweak her. Sometimes she’s too clingy, sometimes she’s too crazy, and sometimes she’s too angry. Whatever changes he makes to her, she’s still not perfect. Not a bad plot turn, but the picture meanders big time, constantly shifting moods: up and down, up and down. Eventually though, the film comes together for an ending. Not a particularly great ending but a fine ending nonetheless.
There’s not a whole lot else to say; “Ruby Sparks” is an example of a movie that’s just plain decent. It’s not nearly as annoying and head-up-its-ass as it could have been and as I said before, if the premise had been in worse hands the entire picture could have been lowbrow, stupid and pointless. But it’s also not as fresh and original as it presents itself. You won’t lose anything by going to see “Ruby Sparks” but you also won’t gain a whole lot either.