Movie review: 'Ruby Sparks' definitely worth catching
'Ruby Sparks,' rated R, 104 minutes
Sparks were definitely flying both on and off the set of the new romantic dramedy, “Ruby Sparks.”
Zoe Kazan and Paul Dano, the two stars of the film, are a real-life couple, and the two directors, Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton, are married.
Recently, I met with all four of them in Boston to discuss their film, which Faris described as “a labor of love.”
Kazan and Dano had been dating for years when Kazan decided to write a screenplay with herself and Dano in mind for the leads. Based loosely on the Pygmalion myth, “Ruby Sparks” stars Dano as Calvin, an accomplished writer who fantasizes about the lovely Ruby (Kazan), then proceeds to write all about her when he wakes up. Content with his dream girl existing only in his mind, Calvin is shocked when Ruby appears as a fully formed person living in his house.
It sounds like the perfect set up for a sweet and predictable romantic comedy, but in between the funny scenes “Ruby Sparks” goes to some dark places, exploring the harsh truths about relationships.
“I didn’t want to write the funny rom-com,” insisted Kazan. “I was interested in talking about what happens in a relationship when one person’s independence threatens the other and control issues arise.”
Serious issues arise in one particular scene, which could be described as “Pymalian meets Frankenstein.” Calvin finally tells Ruby of her origins in his imagination and he starts to manipulate her showing how he controls her every action.
“It was really hard and we needed that scene to change the tone of the movie but we couldn’t bring ourselves to face it. We needed to chew on it before we decided what it needed to include. It was painful,” Kazan said, who knew she needed to include the difficult scene or her script wouldn’t have reached its logical conclusion.
“It was important for me to keep it funny but I also felt that if you are going to dip a toe into the ‘man controls woman’ trope you have to go all the way or it’s a bit sexist. I felt that if you don’t take it to its logical extreme, you are allowing Calvin to get away with something. Then it has no cost for the audience and you’re allowing them to root for the manipulation instead of making him pay for it a little, too. So I wanted it to be a little riskier. Hopefully it will start a conversation.”
Kazan said she was inspired by the magic of certain movies that the audience just has to accept without explanation. “Two of my favorite movies are ‘The Purple Rose of Cairo’ and ‘Groundhog Day’ and they definitely served as inspiration for this. I love that kind of thing. Asking people to suspend their disbelief is central to making art,” she insisted. “There are people who would feel more comfortable if it was a magic typewriter or a shooting star that explained everything, but for me that makes it sillier.”
Dano had worked with Faris and Dayton on “Little Miss Sunshine” seven years ago. He thought the pair was perfect to direct his girlfriend’s script.
“Zoe had written only about 10 pages when she showed them to me and I immediately thought of Val and Jonathan. We had this dreamy idea about them and they would be our first choice. If we hadn’t gotten them I don’t know what we would have done,” explained Dano.
Luckily the directors were also smitten with the script.
“We loved her voice and it felt very true and singular,” Faris said. “Where the story goes was very appealing to us. From the time we started, Zoe said she would trust us with the film. Once we arrived at a script we were all happy with, she could let it go and completely assume the role of Ruby and put the role of writer behind her.”
Dayton said he was drawn to the script because of its simple, but high-concept take on the truths of human relationships.
“I feel that every relationship contains elements of fiction. That’s how we stay in a relationship. We have the person, but we also have the image of the person. And that, in a way, is who we fall in love with. They are part fact and part fiction. That’s what interested us — the way in which relationships take place in both the realm of fiction and in reality.”
Kazan said that in creating the script she experienced a bit of magic just like Calvin had and that the story came to her fully formed. All she had to do was write it out the next day. The writer and actress explained the similarities between her story and Calvin’s story. “Calvin says ‘She came to me wholly in herself — I was just lucky enough to catch her.’”
You won’t be disappointed when you catch “Ruby Sparks” at the theater because you are sure to fall under its spell just like I did.
Meg Quinn-DeBoer lives in Ipswich, Mass. Her movie columns appear regularly.