Ruby Sparks

Directed By: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris

Starring: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Antonio Banderas, Annette Bening, Steve Coogan, Elliott Gould, and Chris Messina

With The Dark Knight Rises rocking the mainstream box office right now, I've been waiting to see what indie cinema would provide as counter-programming to the year's most anticipated summer blockbuster.  It seems they've decided upon Ruby Sparks this week.  As opposed to a dark superhero tale full of pain and struggles, we have a magical romance about a guy who creates his one true love with ink and paper.  It sounds like the stuff predictable sappy movies are made of, and I'd drink to that.

After trying to get over his ex-girlfriend Lila (Deborah Ann Woll) who dumped him weeks after the death of his father, writer Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) finds himself a lonely, disconnected man.  This accomplished young novelist is having such a hard time that he doesn't date.  He doesn't have any friends aside from his brother Harry (Chris Messina).  He can't write a word of his nonexistent new book.  His life is a rather sad tale that he tells to his shrink Dr. Rosenthal (Elliott Gould) over and over again.

Calvin's brother Harry is doing everything he can to get his brother back in the dating game.  However, Calvin is not interested in dating until he meets the right girl.  She's got to be the one who doesn't want to date him because he's a famous author.  She's got to be the one who likes his dog Scotty.  One night, he happens to dream about a beautiful red-headed girl who likes Scotty and doesn’t know who he is. With this dream having been discussed during therapy, Dr. Rosenthal gives his lonely patient an assignment — to write a page about this dream girl.

As Calvin begins to write about this girl whom he names Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan), he becomes more and more enamored with her.  Going above and beyond the one page requested by Dr. Rosenthal, Calvin becomes fixated on writing about Ruby.  She becomes his one true love.  To him, writing about her is tantamount to spending time with her.  Eventually, he begins to notice that female hygiene products and lingerie are somehow appearing in his house.  He thinks that his dog Scotty is stealing them from the trash until he wakes up one morning and finds a red-headed girl cooking in his kitchen.  In his love affair with his typewriter and some figment of his imagination, Calvin has somehow made Ruby real.

I came into Ruby Sparks with this preconceived notion that the movie would be some saccharine, formulaic romance.  To an extent, it starts that way.  Somewhere along the way though, directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris take this movie slightly off the beaten path and give us something more.  They give us something great.  Ruby Sparks is an enchanting, heartwarming romance with a healthy dose of drama and a whole lot of comedy.

The acting in Ruby Sparks is top notch.  As Calvin, Paul Dano continues to add to a growing résumé that illustrates his versatility as a performer.  He takes us on a surprisingly powerful emotional journey in this flick.  Dano's Calvin doesn't know how to love a real person with real problems.  After all, he does end up in a relationship with a figment of his imagination.  He only knows how to love the ideal, perfect woman.  Given that nobody's perfect, that's not a great start to finding love in his life.  Because Ruby is someone he's conjured up in his own mind, ultimately he's only in love with himself.  Interestingly enough, this is the second time this year that Dano has portrayed a writer this year (the first was Being Flynn).  As the titular character Ruby Sparks, Zoe Kazan steps into her own as an actress.  This is a very meaty role for the actress who has mostly played minor supporting roles to date.  She makes Ruby both Calvin's magical love and a very real presence in his life.  She gives Ruby Sparks its heart.

The supporting cast members also deliver enjoyable performances.  Annette Bening gives us Calvin's mom Gertrude, a wild and crazy character.  She gives us a hippie mom that very much resembles Jane Fonda's Grace in Peace, Love & Misunderstanding.  She even has the weed to back it up.   As her husband Mort, Antonio Banderas is one funny dude.  This passionate, overtly sexual carpenter has few scenes in Ruby Sparks but keeps us rolling whenever he's on camera.  Finally, Chris Messina's Harry brings a ton of laughs.  He may be the most realistic, jaded person in this supernatural tale.  He represents us in the movie and how we would react to what would appear to be utter nonsense.

Ruby Sparks is a gem of a film that I surprisingly loved from start to finish.  With strong performances from the cast and great direction from Dayton and Faris, this romantic comedy won't let you down.  This magical, romantic tale gets a 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers during this one.