Ruby Sparks is one of those romantic comedies that really hits the spot – a satisfying, fun, and engrossing love story that does not rely upon unnecessary drama, overly contrived situations, cheesy romance, or any of the other devices commonly used to appeal to the masses of mainstream film-goers.
Paul Dano is perfect as Calvin, a prodigy of a novelist who published his masterpiece before the age of 20. Struggling to overcome depression and writer’s block, Calvin takes the advice of his therapist to complete a writing exercise about someone who likes his dog. He creates Ruby, a tiny redhead with lots of personality, in his fictional piece, only to find that one day she shows up in his apartment in the flesh (and very well played by Zoe Kazan at that). What further complicates things, beyond the fact that Ruby’s existence itself is questionable, is Calvin’s hold on her – by writing it, he can make her do, say, think, and feel whatsoever he pleases. All in combination with his anxiety and lack of healthy relationship experience.
Chris Messina portrays Calvin’s brother Harry, the only person who really knows how Ruby came into his brother’s life, while Annette Benning and Antonio Banderas fill out the roles of Calvin’s mother and stepfather. The talented cast really shines in this sweet and engaging story. Obviously you need to suspend disbelief to get into this one, but it isn’t very difficult to do so. Calvin’s total transformation after meeting Ruby keeps you rooting for the couple throughout. And Ruby herself is a delightful, compelling female lead even if she does get relegated to the “manic pixie dream girl” category by many reviewers of the film.
Zoe Kazan not only shines as the title character in the movie, she also wrote the screenplay. Kazan demonstrates a talent for screenwriting that I still find impressive, regardless of the fact that both of her parents are screenwriters (Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord). There is a remarkable clarity to the story of Ruby Sparks, the very concept of which could easily drift into complicated and/or hysterical territory. But she gets the balance just right and makes sure her viewers care about her characters throughout – enough so that you want to watch this one again and again. There’s really nothing more to ask for out of an independent romantic comedy.