Ruby Sparks makes magic of literary loners
Starring Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan. Rated PG. Opens Friday, August 3, at the Fifth Avenue Cinemas
Many years ago, speculative writer Ursula K. Le Guin came up with The Lathe of Heaven, about an exceptionally suggestible man who goes to a psychiatrist when his dreams keep coming true. Being a socially conscious do-gooder, the shrink decides that tweaking his patient’s unusual gift is a good way to fix the future—and this has just the kind of unanticipated consequences you might fear would happen.
In Ruby Sparks, aging wunderkind Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano), still coasting on the big success of his first novel after 10 years of inactivity, doesn’t think in such broad strokes. He’s happy to simply conjure his dream girl on paper—literally, since he uses a manual typewriter (the only analogue thing in his supermodern Hollywood Hills apartment). Most things overwhelm Calvin, and he really freaks when the titular Ruby Sparks (Elia Kazan’s granddaughter Zoe Kazan, who also fashioned the impressive screenplay) magically appears soon after his therapist (Elliott Gould) suggests an unusual writing exercise.
In codirectors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’s first feature outing since Little Miss Sunshine, much mild humour is derived from Calvin’s inability to integrate his fantasy life with the alleged real world. Other people, especially his crass-if-caring brother (Chris Messina, if you can buy that), eventually convince him that Ruby, like her excellent meat loaf, is made of flesh and blood.
The movie gets deeper as the relationship takes on its own life, and Calvin struggles against exercising his authorial control over his increasingly autonomous creation. Along the way, there are direct nods to The Red Shoes and The Wizard of Oz, as well as J. D. Salinger, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and other literary loners. The cast of living entities is just as impressive, and I almost feel bad even mentioning that Annette Bening, Steve Coogan, and Antonio Banderas are among the surprising pop-ups. But, hell, this is my reality, not yours.
Watch the trailer for Ruby Sparks.