Bottom Line: Ruby Sparks…has good intentions.
Directed by: Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris
Calvin Weir-Fields: Paul Dano
Ruby Sparks: Zoe Kazan
Also Starring: Aasif Mandvi, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, Chris Messina, Deborah Ann Woll, Steve Coogan, Toni Trucks
“If you love someone, set them free. If they come back they’re yours; if they don’t they never were.” –Richard Bach
Not one poster, trailer, billboard, or any other advertisement for Ruby Sparks has been issued without the phrase, “from the directors of Little Miss Sunshine.” Any sane being cannot help seeing those words and going nuts. That “dramedy” was released back in 2006, and it’s still difficult not to love. Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris co-created that dysfunctional family in dark, heavy, often chaotic nutshell shrapnel, and somehow, there isn’t a single moment of it that isn’t wickedly hysterical. Knowing that dynamic debut, it’s pretty difficult to try and resist Ruby Sparks. The follow-up to Little Miss Sunshine, the story takes on another completely human topic: writing. Starting up, it’s decent, but for whatever reason, there’s too much desire to get the screenplay far busier than it needs to be. I mean to say that perhaps Little Miss Sunshine was the directorial duo’s limited time in the limelight.
The premise is a contrived cross between Weird Science and Stranger than Fiction, if a bit less confusing. Calvin is a lonely, bored writer. Nobody knows or remembers him for his own personality; they all know him as “the guy who wrote that book I read in high school [and somehow loved].” On top of that, he’s narcissistic, is not aware of what “being in love” means, and looks at life as a dream he can’t take seriously. He’s told by his psychologist that he is to write one page about unconditional love; instead, he grows obsessed with the project and uses it as the forefront for a novel in progress. In this novel, Calvin is in love with an equally quirky woman named Ruby Sparks. Spontaneously, she comes to life one day. As far as being merely a character out of a novel, Ruby is clueless. Often this leads to her becoming a comic relief to the story. Certain scenes that feature her are more memorable than the rest of the movie. Calvin, however, is increasingly possessive of her, so these sequences are scarce.
It’s not likely directors Dayton and Faris will ever co-direct a drama with likeable characters. It’s sickening to try and understand the dysfunctional family in Little Miss Sunshine; similarly, it’s mind-numbing to try and agree with a horrendously possessive womanizer like Calvin. The difference is that Calvin is never redeemed in the end. Not in time, at least. One moment, he’s curious about what he can do with a typewriter, in which he scripts a woman’s every action. He experiments, and uses it to solve his problems selfishly. Ruby innocently hanging out with her friends in a bar, he feels lonely; “Ruby is miserable without Calvin,” he writes. We begin to hate him more and more. Now he’s aggressively, frantically commanding her to strip for him, sing for him, tell him he’s a genius. Wait, now he’s regretting that? What a quick change for such a misogynistic pig. In case I haven’t made this clear enough already, Ruby Sparks is of an extremely sexist mentality; strangely enough, this was written and co-directed by women. Much of the film is greatly humorous, and Ruby herself is a wild, giddy comic relief. I did mention it before, but it’s worth two mentions. The failing half of the humor is attempts to craft comedy out of objectification. In turn, the film is increasingly depressing, and ultimately disappointing.