Sunday, 14 October 2012

REVIEW: Ruby Sparks

Dir.: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
With: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Annette Bening

In the steps of Galatea and Eliza Doolittle comes “Ruby Sparks”, a film about one man’s rather animated creation.  Paul Dano, as you will no doubt remember from “There Will Be Blood” and “Little Miss Sunshine”, has the singular ability to be both likeable and repellent in his roles. Here he plays Calvin Weir-Harris, an LA-based novelist whose first publication at the age of 19 has brought him numerous accolades, high riches and universal acclaim. Fast forward 10 years and he is still struggling to produce a follow-up to his debut. Writer’s block, inability to maintain relations and many other hang-ups send him into the arms of a bearded therapist who gives him a homework assignment – to write a page of very bad prose. At first hesitant, but free from any pressure to produce the next “Ulysses”, Calvin starts typing away. His imagination gives birth to a lovely young woman, Ruby, who one day comes to life.

The directors’ previous film “Little Miss Sunshine” was the kind of word-of-mouth success that normally happens to the lucky few indie productions. They bring the same quirkiness and values to their second film. However, “Ruby Sparks” is only really funny during its first half, when Calvin comes to grips with his girl’s realness and then tries to experiment with her character, crazy scientist style. Towards the end, the film loses its point a little bit and ends up being slightly disappointing. There are a number of scenes that were perhaps over-extended, which is a shame because this dissolves the structure of an otherwise natural development of the storyline.

The real joy here is Zoe Kazan, who also wrote the script and is Paul Dano’s real life girlfriend. Her comedy talents reminded me of the classic screw-ball antics of Lucille Ball and even Katharine Hepburn. Her portrayal of Ruby as the big-eyed painter who goes from one extreme to another in her behaviour was truly hilarious. She also gives the whole film the much needed warmth that its neurotic protagonist lacks. The chemistry between the two is pitch-perfect and they seem to be a well-matched couple in life as in art. Both are offbeat, unusual looking and very talented.

I kind of miss the days when you had real couples play against one another in films – Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracey (this makes me sound about a hundred years old). Even “Mr and Mrs Smith” had its good moments that mainly revolved around the sparks between Angelina and Brad. So, in a way, “Ruby Sparks” is a return to the nice old territory of the onscreen rendering of domestic dramatics. 

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