I’m starting a series that once a month I’m going to point out a movie that is definitely worth your time, but you probably missed because it was poorly/wrongly marketed, in limited release, or overlooked for some other reason. This month – 2012’s Ruby Sparks
Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
By D. G. McCabe
“True, I talk of dreams,
Which are the children of an idle brain,
Begot of nothing but vain fantasy.”
– William Shakespeare, from “Romeo and Juliet” (Act I, Scene IV), 1591
What do we think we want? And what would happen if what we thought we want could magically appear out of the ether, and allow us to alter it at a moment’s notice? Would that thing make us happy? These are the questions that are posed by 2012’s Ruby Sparks, a limited release, independent film from Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the directors of 2006’s “Little Miss Sunshine.” The screenplay is the work of Zoe Kazan, who does double duty, staring as the title character of the film.
At first glance (and unfortunately, as marketed), the movie appears to be a “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” fantasy where a beautiful, quirky, awkward girl rescues a brooding artist from himself. This is true to a certain extent, except that said girl was created by the very same brooding artist and, therefore, isn’t the brooding artist really saving himself (or not)?
If only it were that simple. Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) certainly needs some help, as he clearly suffers from a pathos cocktail of social anxiety, depression, professional dissatisfaction, and egotism. A successful writer, but arguably one who peaked too early, Calvin tries to fill the void in his life by getting a dog, going to lame parties, and going to the gym with his brother (Chris Messina). At least he has given up groupies, he tells his brother.
One day, Calvin has a vision of a woman in a dream. He becomes obsessed with this woman and can’t stop writing about her. One day, she appears out of no where in his kitchen. Having ruled out schizophrenia during a hilarious sequence, he starts a relationship with this woman, Ruby Sparks.
The problems begin when Ruby starts exhibiting traits that aren’t in Calvin’s idealized image of her. Calvin becomes increasingly possessive of and obsessed with Ruby Eventually he tries to “edit” her using his (apparently magical) antique typewriter, which only makes matters worse. As the movie goes along, we begin to question how much of Ruby is a real human being, and how much she is Calvin’s personal marionette.
Now if you’re wondering how Ruby eats or breathes or other science facts, remember this is a fantasy, and a tool to explore the inherent conflict between our idealized visions/dreams and real people, who are imperfect. While the movie suffers from a few pacing flaws, it also serves as an interesting and somewhat thorough study on this issue.
You might like Ruby Sparks if: You are interested in seeing a deconstruction of the “manic pixie dream girl” fantasy as a tool to explore the inherent conflict between our dreams and reality.
You might not like Ruby Sparks if: You prefer your movies to be purely escapist, which, as I’ve said before, is perfectly fine.
(c) 2013 D.G. McCabe