Sunday, 17 February 2013

Ruby Sparks


Title: Ruby Sparks
Director: Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton
Released: 2012
Staring: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Elliott Gould, Chris Messina, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, Steve Coogan, Alia Shawkat

Plot: Calvin (Dano) a struggling young novelist and writing prodigy, who after being launched into superstardom with his first novel, now finds himself plagued with writer’s block while working on the follow up. Unwittingly though he manages to bring his latest character Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan) to life, whom he soon embarks on a relationship with having based her on his dream girl, only to find that even the seemingly most perfect girl can be less than perfect.

Review: Despite releasing the wonderful “Little Miss Sunshine” to critical acclaim it has taken another six years for us to finally receive this follow up from the husband and wife directing duo who truly established themselves as an original voice of indie film making with their debut feature, especially after having spent the early years of their career directing music videos for the likes of “R.E.M.” and “The Smashing Pumpkins” and it was great to see them able to carry their unique visions into feature film making and something which thankfully still remains here, while Zoe Kazan who appears here as the titular Ruby makes her own writing debut with a non the less confident voice.

Bizarrely the script was inspired by a random combination of a discarded mannequin and the Greek myth of “Pygmalion” the sculptor who fell in love with a statue he had carved. Working with the equally imaginative Faris and Dayton they have together crafted here a highly unique rom-com of sorts via the way of “Stranger Than Fiction” which is also looked at the idea of fiction shaping reality, something which especially comes into play during the second half of the film when Calvin realises that he can still shape Ruby’s character with a few keystrokes on his typewriter, he can make her speak fluent French or even change her personality completely. While portrayed in the trailers as a light hearted rom-com, the film also hides a much darker side, especially once Calvin starts adjusting her personality to smooth over the things he doesn’t like, as he makes her more clingy and carefree before finally taking out an unnerving dominant side on her, as he further enforces just how control he is of her life, while his performance during this scene means that I won’t surprised if we see him playing a serial killer in the near future

Right from the start though this film just oozes indie cool, as you realise that this film could only have been made as an indie film, as it requires the level of subtlety that this film brings to the table, even go so far as to not complicate the sudden arrival of Ruby nor the rules of her existence. Honestly I don’t even think they explain how she came to exist in reality, but rather the film takes the tact of throwing the idea out to the audience and challenging them to go along with it, which thanks to how engaging these characters are is never a problem, even if Faris and Dayton do give into convention for the ending which seemed perhaps a little more traditional than I would have expected from this film, which seemingly has it’s ending only to tact a happier one on top of it.

Both Dano and Kazan give amazing performances here and despite being an off screen couple, manage the not so easy feat of showing real on screen chemistry, with both actors playing off each others performances well, with Faris and Dayton reuniting here with Dano convincingly  playing the fumbling and reclusive literacy prodigy, who spends his days walking his dog Scotty (named after his favourite author F. Scott Fitzgerald), pottering around his minimalist LA apartment or sitting in front of his classic typewriter crippled with the pressures of producing a second novel and whose only real connection to the outside world being through his therapy sessions Dr. Rosenthal (Gould) or gym sessions with his brother Harry (Messina) who is essentially the complete opposite of Calvin as he exudes confidence and generally lives the life which Calvin wishes he could have. Kazan here embodies the character the character of Ruby, not only in her quirky original form, but also as she is gradually changed by Calvin over the course of the film, embodying each change with an air of indie cool so that you truly believe that Calvin is changing and reshaping her personality with the keys of his typewriter.

While Faris and Dayton hit casting gold with their leads, this luck also extends to the supporting cast aswell with Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas, proving a fun addition as Calvin’s hippy mother and her boyfriend, whose carefree lifestyle sits in direct opposition to the organised and high stress life Calvin currently finds himself in. Elsewhere Steve Coogan puts in a fun cameo as Calvin’s writing rival and friend Langdon Tharp, as does indie favourite Alia Shawkat who puts in a far to brief appearance as Calvin’s obsessed fan Mabel.

A film which falls between “Stranger Than Fiction” and “500 Days of Summer”, it is one which proves that you can make a rom-com without having to drown proceedings in saturnine sweetness and a top 40 soundtrack especially with the film favoring a decidedly classical soundtrack. At the same time the film also proves that you can make an enjoyable film with some element of mystery to it, without fear of excluding the majority of your audience more used to having every plot point expanded and explained in its simplest terms. Although to some Faris and Dayton might seem like indie film making tourists with their by the book style and certain restraint in pushing conventions too far, this film does continue to highlight them as talent to watch, only heres hoping that the wait won’t be so long for the next film.

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