Ruby Sparks a Lonely Writer's Imagination
The protagonist of Ruby Sparks is a boy genius slumping toward 30, Calvin (Paul Dano), once the literary spokesman of his generation, now stymied by the blank white page in his manual typewriter. But writer’s block isn’t Calvin’s only problem. Women only want him because they’re in love with the novel he wrote while still in his teens, and in any event, he’s such a wussy sad sack, with such poor self-image, that sustaining relations might be harder than writing the next great American novel.
One morning, Calvin awakens in his sterile, white, modernist house in the Los Angeles foothills with a dream image of a woman sticking to memory. Inspired at last, he begins to cover the blank page in his typewriter with a character sketch. Ruby, as he names her, is 26 and cute, but not intimidating in her beauty. She’s from Ohio, always roots for the underdog, paints pictures, doesn’t drive or own a computer and is a bit scattered. Her favorite men are Humphrey Bogart and John Lennon—and she cried when she found out they were already dead.
Although Ruby begins as nothing but an interesting character for the novel his agent is pressing him to write, Calvin is dismayed to learn how thin the border is between fiction and reality. He’s puzzled when women’s undergarments begin turning up around his house. Soon enough, their owner appears in the form of his creation, Ruby (Zoe Kazan), strolling around the place as if she’s real. Calvin shudders at this hallucinatory visitor until it becomes clear that other people see her, too. Ruby is real, fashioned from Calvin’s imagination and brought to life as he puts words to paper.
A male artist who
imagines an ideal woman and brings her to life? It’s an idea as old as Greece.
This archetypal fantasy of dominance and godlike power is at the heart of Ruby
Sparks, a film that begins in a
flurry of feather-light notes before building toward a dark crescendo. Directors Jonathan
Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine), along with star and screenwriter Kazan, shift Ruby
Sparks from a school-of-Woody-Allen
comedy about a neurotic, continually ambivalent writer, in therapy and with women problems,
into a metaphysical drama. While Calvin is the composer of Ruby’s character, he
can’t write in her every inflection, can he? And what happens when Ruby
develops volition and acts contrary to his presumptions? Can he recompose her
or intervene in the smaller turns of her life? Should he? The question comes
down to this: Where does free will meet destiny in Calvin’s creation, not to
say in the cosmos at large? And finally, are we only in love with our idea of the other person, not the reality?
Ruby Sparks is out on Blu-ray and DVD.