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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Ruby Sparks

The script for this high-concept romantic comedy, written by Zoe Kazan (who also stars as the female lead), offers a penetrating look at the ugly side of romantic love.

Paul Dano stars as Calvin Weirs-Field, a genius (though he bristles at the term) whose first novel made him a literary sensation at the age of 19. In the decade since he has been unable to finish a second novel and is becoming an emotional wreck, having seemingly only his agent, his brother a therapist, and his dog for companionship. Spurred on by an assignment given by his therapist, Paul begins imagining a young woman who might like him. He dreams of her, gives her a name and a personality, and begins writing her story. Soon this girl, Ruby Sparks, begins to seem real to him.

Sure enough, one morning Ruby shows up in his kitchen, cooking him breakfast and looking cute as a button. Because Calvin is one of those sad young literary men, Ruby is an artistic woman with joie de vivre to spare and enough endearing personality quirks to make Zooey Deschanel look positively strait-laced by comparison. And of course, despite her considerable charms, she has nothing better to do than inspire Calvin.

Or does she? After a brief period of bliss, Kazan’s script starts to turn against Calvin, showing how even his own creation can’t live up to his image of her. Sometimes Calvin doesn’t feel like living in an indie movie, like when he’s visiting his suddenly new-age mother and her woodworker second husband whom Calvin still resents. And sometimes, even the girl of your dreams has a headache and wants to go to bed early.

From there it only gets darker, and as an increasingly desperate Calvin struggles to modulate Ruby to match his desires, his creation gets further and further from what he wants. It leads to a frightening confrontation and an examination of just how dark the desire in Calvin’s heart is.

Unfortunately, though the production codes went out a long time ago, there seems to be a codicil still in effect that no movie billed as a romantic comedy can end on a dark note, so we’re treated to a largely uninteresting coda in which Calvin learns his lessons and gets a second chance that most of the preceding film will convince you he doesn’t deserve.

Kazan’s script is a clever deconstruction of the quirky-girl male fantasy which loses steam as it belabors its essential point.

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