Reporting Bill Wine
By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Ruby Sparks walks a tightrope over a vat of preciousness and predictability without ever falling in.
It’s a whimsical, winning romantic fantasy-comedy about a novelist and the fictional character he invents who comes to life.
So this is not a guy who finds romance as much as one who engineers it.
And, yes, that central conceit has been trotted out many times before, but rarely with this much charm and finesse.
Paul Dano plays Calvin Weir-Fields, a lonely, socially awkward, struggling 29-year-old novelist fighting his way through an epic case of writer’s block, trying vainly to follow up his wildly successful first novel, a literary sensation that he wrote at the very tender age of 19 and which landed on the New York Times bestseller list.
He’s having a tough time getting over the girlfriend who dumped him, so his shrink (Elliott Gould) suggests that he invent the woman of his dreams. Not for publication, just for whatever therapeutic value the exercise might provide.
So, Calvin sits down at his typewriter — curiously, he doesn’t have or use a computer — and makes a woman up.
And, wouldn’t you know it, his material materializes.
His invention, the film’s title character, is a radiant, sweetly enamored, low-maintenance, highly affectionate redhead who has somehow come to life.
Yep, the figment of his imagination is standing at the bathroom mirror as he speaks.
Ruby is played by Zoe Kazan, who also wrote the screenplay, and she thinks and feels and says and does whatever he types. Calvin has willed her into existence and now he controls her every move.
Talk about your male fantasies.
But sometimes the puppet takes the puppeteer’s instructions too far in a particular direction. Sometimes the lines between the ideal and the real aren’t so easy to see. Sometimes one’s creation develops a mind of its own. Which means that sometimes it’s difficult for the inventor to love the woman he invented even though it was he who invented her.
Ruby must, he soon realizes, be flesh-and-blood real because Calvin’s not the only one who can see her. So can his family — his brother (Chris Messina), his mother (Annette Bening), and her live-in guy (Antonio Banderas).
And they’re all happy to see Calvin romantically involved with anybody, let alone this adorable creature.
Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris — in their first movie since their 2006 triumph, Little Miss Sunshine, their narrative debut — travel the magical-realism path this time around but resist the temptation to exploit the supernatural or broadly raunchy implications of the material.
Instead, they keep things as close to realistic as possible, given the fantastical premise. And yet the playful, naughty side that we can’t help but look for is never ignored either.
Kazan’s endearingly bittersweet and fanciful script, like a twinkly “Twilight Zone” episode in the Pygmalion-myth vein, explores male self-absorption and the tendency to objectify and control women. But the writer and the directors maintain a light touch in their exploration of the intersection of power and love in romantic relationships.
So we have the unusual situation of two couples — one dating for a few years, one married for many — examining the phenomenon of coupling. And in on-screen couple Kazan and Dano (who was in Little Miss Sunshine), off-screen couple Dayton and Faris have found a real-life offbeat couple who are able to translate their real-life chemistry to the screen.
So we’ll invent 3 stars out of 4. Real-life sparks help to make the charming flight-of-fancy romcom Ruby Sparks a breezy but never cheesy delight.