Zoe Kazan Illuminates Fascinating Fable of ‘Ruby Sparks’

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HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 4.5/5.0
Rating: 4.5/5.0

CHICAGO – Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris return to the spotlight this week with their first film since the award-winning “Little Miss Sunshine” and they completely defy the sophomore slump, delivering a smart, fascinating, fun gem in the spectacular “Ruby Sparks.” Buoyed by one of the best screenplays of the year courtesy of one of our most interesting young actresses, “Ruby Sparks” is a clever romantic fantasy that works on nearly every level.

At his core, the writer is a control freak. Writers craft characters to serve their will, whether it be to entertain an audience, to make a statement, or to fulfill a side of their personality that they can’t in the real world. The wonderful Zoe Kazan (“Meek’s Cutoff,” “The Exploding Girl”) has crafted a fable in “Ruby Sparks” about how that sense of control and craftsmanship makes a writer a unique romantic partner. Writing for herself and her real-life romantic partner in Paul Dano, Kazan has delivered a dense, multi-layered piece of work and she was lucky enough to find two directors who completely understood her themes. The screenplay for “Ruby Sparks” is a high-wire act of tones, genres, and themes and Kazan proves to be more than capable of traversing it.

Ruby Sparks
Ruby Sparks
Photo credit: Fox Searchlight

Calvin Weir-Fields (Dano) is a famous writer who hasn’t delivered a new novel since his breakthrough ten years ago. His agent, therapist, and family encourage him to write more but he’s been blocked by his own success. At speaking appearances, he feels awkward as fans try to break down his characters for the millionth time. He just looks defeated by life. Then he dreams of Ruby Sparks (Kazan).

She starts in his dreams and, as writers often do, Weir-Fields starts to write about Ruby. He crafts a past life for the girl of his dreams and she begins to inspire him. He’s writing again. He’s jumping off his therapist’s walls instead of lying on the couch. And then he wakes up to find Ruby Sparks making him breakfast. She’s gone from dream to paper to reality. And Calvin can still control her, altering her behavior through his typewriter.

Ruby Sparks
Ruby Sparks
Photo credit: Fox Searchlight

Sound silly? It’s a crazy premise for a film but aren’t so many of our greatest romances built around fables, magic, fate, symbols, and other fictional concepts? Like Kaufman with “Adaptation,” Kazan completely embraces her concept. Ruby Sparks is an imaginary character come to life. Deal with it. One of the many incredible things about Kazan’s screenplay is how confidently she sells her concept. The very foundation of “Ruby Sparks” could have been disastrously whimsical if Kazan hadn’t completely committed to it.

Or found directors and an ensemble willing to play along. Kazan is the revelation here – both as a writer and an actress – but “Ruby Sparks” is supported by some incredibly strong ensemble performances, including a great turn by Chris Messina and some nice moments with Annette Bening, Antonio Bandera, Steve Coogan, Elliott Gould, Alia Shawkat, and Deborah Ann Woll (giving the best one-scene performance of the year). Dayton & Faris clearly have a gift with actors, finding subtle moments in broad concepts. As for Dano, he’s the only arguable weakness in that I found myself wishing that Calvin wasn’t quite so introverted and neurotic. There’s an even more daring version of “Ruby Sparks” in which Calvin is less of a hermit and more of an ordinary guy in an extraordinary situation.

Ruby Sparks
Ruby Sparks
Photo credit: Fox Searchlight

Kazan juggles genres in “Ruby Sparks,” finding wonderfully romantic moments (there’s an early pool sequence that’s just stunning) and then bookending them with action later in the film. It’s not a spoiler to say that “Ruby Sparks” is not a traditional love story. Kazan has loftier goals. This is a story of control as much as passion. We want the girl of our dreams but we want her to stay as we envisioned her. Calvin is a man who cannot recognize that people change in ways he cannot control – a chapter with his mother, played by Bening, is a beautiful thematic commentary on the protagonist in that time has changed her outlook on life in ways that Calvin seems incapable of understanding.

The life of the writer has long been a subject of filmmakers but rarely has there been a film that gets the remarkable dichotomy of dreamer and control freak that lives within someone who crafts characters from thin air like “Ruby Sparks.” And don’t get me wrong. “Ruby Sparks” works on this deep, symbolic level but it’s also simply fun, captivating filmmaking that delivers as pure entertainment. However you want to interpret the unexpected life of “Ruby Sparks,” just don’t miss it.

“Ruby Sparks” stars Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Chris Messina, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, Aasif Mandvi, Steve Coogan, Deborah Ann Woll, Alia Shawkat, and Elliott Gould. It was written by Kazan and directed by Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris. It opens in Chicago on July 25, 2012.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

Content Director

Manny be down's picture

Rudy Sparks

This was made for a guy flick its’ our deam come true I love its’

ziggy one of the best's picture

"Rudy Sparks"

What a cute movie its’ truly Sparks

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