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A genius brought a dream to life
And dared to call her all his own,
But dreams aren’t what they seem in life
And oft grow past where they are sown.

Attempts to keep a dream confined
Will leave both love and lover stale,
For dreams cannot be hid behind
Possessive fears that they may fail.
After someone at work mentioned that I bore a resemblance to Paul Dano in Ruby Sparks, I knew I had to see this movie. (Incidentally, I don’t see the similarity.) The brainchild of star Zoe Kazan, who wrote the lead roles with herself and boyfriend Dano in mind, Ruby Sparks begins with a great idea and, despite some stumbles along the way, ultimately fulfills its potential. Paul Dano is much like a young Woody Allen as the rather neurotic young novelist Calvin Weir-Fields, who finds himself unable to match his early success. He’s a loner, whose past relationships haven’t ended well and whose friends include only his dog Scotty and his brother and sister-in-law. It’s not until his shrink suggests a writing exercise that he feels inspired and spits out a description of a girl he’s seen in his dreams. When Ruby actually appears as his very real girlfriend, drama, humor, romance, conflict, and hard relationship lessons ensue.

While the idea may feel a bit similar to The Odd Life of Timothy Green (released just a month later), and other films like Inkheart and Stranger than Fiction have toyed with the concept of writing becoming reality, the moral elements help to set Ruby Sparks apart. Though Calvin discovers that he can change Ruby with a few words on his typewriter, he resolves never to take advantage of this authorial privilege, but he reconsiders when his girlfriend deviates from his expectations. As Kazan has stated, Ruby isn’t just a “manic pixie dream girl,” eager to please Calvin with no faults whatsoever. Though he balks at the title of genius, Calvin’s too good a writer to create some one-dimensional character; whatever her origins, she ends up being a human being, wild and eccentric at times, but also moody and much more outgoing than her beau. He finds that he’s in love with the idea of her rather than the real McCoy. The nuances and challenges of love are sadly lost on Calvin, since after all, why must he change when Ruby is so changeable? I tend to sympathize with him since, being more of an introvert, I’d rather read a book at home than smoke weed with a free-spirited sort-of relative (a surprising Antonio Banderas), but Calvin’s still clearly in a rut he’s unwilling to escape.

While the potential was there for Ruby Sparks to become a rom-com classic, it aims a bit too wide of that mark. A few too many F-bombs and loose morals are thrown in (plus a brief but rather shocking scene from some zombie Z movie), perhaps to give it a more respectable(?) rating of R, and these elements only drag it down for me. Even so, I enjoy movies about writing, and Kazan’s often witty dialogue is one of the film’s strengths, along with stellar acting from all involved, including Elliott Gould, Annette Bening, and Chris Messina.

While Calvin’s changes to Ruby are sometimes hilarious, the fact that he’s exploiting the dignity of his “brainchild” is never lost and comes to a head in a bizarre climax that threatens to rob him of all sympathy. Nevertheless, considering everything before, what follows might be considered one of the most perfect endings I’ve seen in some time, allowing everyone the change and growth they need. On top of that, the film’s score by Nick Urata grabbed my attention and has become a new favorite of mine to listen to while I write. Despite its flaws, Ruby Sparks left me with a positive impression; with work like this, I’d say Kazan and Dano have bright futures ahead of them.

Best line: (movie producer, interested in adapting Calvin’s first novel into a film) “Now, Adam and Mandi come in with a wealth of experience from documentary films. Everything they touch is authentic. They make it real.”
(Adam) “Grounded in reality and—”
(Mandi) “We treat narrative the exact same way.”
(producer) “You saw the baby documentary they did.”
(Calvin’s publicist) “Yes. Made me want to have a kid.”

Rank: Honorable Mention

© 2015 S. G. Liput

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