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The indie romantic comedy has really grown into its own genre, especially after the success of unique films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and (500) Days of Summer. Ruby Sparks, directed by the same husband-wife team that brought us the hilarious Little Miss Sunshine, is an even greater twist on the quirky romantic comedy. It is among the best films of 2012, although it's not going to land on many critics' top 10 lists at the end of year.
Ruby Sparks, written by actress Zoe Kazan, focuses on Calvin (Paul Dano), a young novelist who had his success 10 years ago with his debut novel, published at age 19. In the years since, he has only written short stories and is desperate for a new idea. He's so desperate, in fact, that he has been seeing a psychiatrist (Elliot Gould). After dreaming about a beautiful girl, his psychiatrist gives him a writing assignment. Calvin has to write about someone that loves him unconditionally, although the doctor is thinking about Calvin's dog. Calvin goes on a writing spree, creating Ruby Sparks (Kazan). Suddenly she appears before him as a real human being, but he can't believe it. Surely, this can't happen. But not only can he see her, others can, too.
Calvin is in love with Ruby and she becomes his girlfriend in real life, but the lines blur between fantasy and reality. He discovers that whatever he writes about her, she can do and realizes that if she becomes too real, he loses control of her. It's a power that he can't handle and he never really learns to. Instead, he figures out that this is a power that just cannot last.
Kazan's story is clearly one inspired by the Pygmalion tale, where a man molds a woman into the perfect being he wants only to realize that this is a person with feelings that are beyond his control. Unlike Henry Higgins in George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion though, Calvin can destroy his creation, since Ruby is straight from his imagination. Kazan also brings to the story a lot of other influences from comedies with some fantastical twist, like Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo.
This is also Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris' first film since Little Miss Sunshine introduced them to film audiences. In the years since that movie came out in 2006, it's interesting to see that their handling of actors hasn't changed. They really know how to cast well, finding fantastic actors to support Kazan and Paul Dano, who starred in Little Miss Sunshine. Chris Messina, who is better known for his TV work (he's currently on Fox's The Mindy Project), is very good as Calvin's brother.
Dano and Kazan dominate the picture, of course. Kazan shows that she's not just a writer and I hope we see more of her in the future. I'm also a fan of Dano, especially after There Will Be Blood, and his performance here is sublime. The two have perfect chemistry, which particularly shines during the emotional climax of the film.
However, there is one crutch and one gaping problem with this film. It's the ending. For those who don't want to know, here's your last warning. The film has a cheap Hollywood ending. I buy that Calvin's last months with his real-life creation inspire him to finally write that successful novel, which I think is the perfect ending here. That it goes a step further is a little too much of an extra ribbon that we don't need.
Ruby Sparks never comes off as a project just to showcase Kazan's talents, since she does have a great cast around her and Dano and good directors overseeing the action. Still, she really comes into her own with Ruby Sparks. Even if the ending is a little bit too satisfying, the rest of the product is much too good to ignore. I enjoyed it and can't wait to see what Kazan's working on next.
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