The bittersweet comedy “Ruby Sparks” has been so well written that if I’d been told it was from a script by Woody Allen, I’d have believed it.
The movie’s fabulist hilarity and aching emotions would fit quite nicely among Allen titles like “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” “Midnight in Paris” and “Alice.”
Actually, “Ruby Sparks” was written by Zoe Kazan, 29, who also plays the title role, appearing opposite her real-life significant other, actor Paul Dano
These two and directors and Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (the team behind the wonderful “Little Miss Sunshine”) have fashioned a delicately modulated movie that tickles the funnybone, pokes the intellect and tugs at the heartstrings.
Though not yet 30, Calvin Weir-Fields (Dano) is a celebrated author thanks to the novel he published while still in his teens. But for years Calvin has had writer’s block. Moreover, he’s lonely, withdrawn and socially inept.
His shrink (Elliott Gould) suggests that Calvin write a story about a woman he’d like to meet. He comes up with a character he calls Ruby Sparks, his dream girl.
Calvin is perplexed when intimate items of women’s clothing starts appearing around his sterile-looking house. And then he awakens to find Ruby Sparks (Kazan) in his kitchen, fixing breakfast. His dream girl has come to life.
Kazan’s script so cleverly injects Ruby into the real world — and Dano proves himself such an adept physical comedian — that we eagerly accept this fantastic premise.
Ruby possesses just the qualities and personal history that Calvin wrote for her. Initially he thinks he’s having a mental breakdown. Then he realizes that other people (like his married brother Harry, played by Chris Messina) can see Ruby, touch her, talk to her.
It’s a freakin’ miracle!
Well, be careful what you wish for.
Once made flesh, Ruby starts to exhibit a mind of her own. At Harry’s urging, Calvin tries writing new chapters in her story. At one point he types that Ruby speaks fluent French. And suddenly she’s carrying on like a lifelong Parisian.
Now whenever Ruby exhibits an independent streak or gets moody or sad — or simply doesn’t want to have sex — Calvin simply writes a scenario that meets his approval. The problem, of course, is that it’s no longer a relationship once Calvin exerts absolute control of his beloved’s thoughts, actions and emotions.
Yes, he has God-like powers over Ruby. But being God isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Kazan (“Meek’s Cutoff”), granddaughter of the famed American director Elia Kazan, and Dano (“Little Miss Sunshine,” “There Will Be Blood”), are something of an on-screen odd couple…and that proves highly appropriate.
Neither is movie-star handsome. They manage to be attractive despite her too big nose or his receding chin and stringy hair…in fact their overwhelming average-ness helps sell the story in ways that drop-dead beauty never could. Dano’s Calvin is neurotic and petulant (that’s before he becomes cold and controlling), but we never lose sight of the insecure little boy at his core.
Kazan, on the other hand, gets to portray a half-dozen characters. Every time Calvin rewrites Ruby’s story, Kazan gets to play a variation. It’s a regular acting clinic, but fun.
The cast is rounded out by Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas as Calvin’s bohemian mother and step-dad, and Steve Coogan as a fellow writer who takes a predatory interest in Ruby. All are quite good.
But the film belongs to Kazan and Dano, who are so spectacular together that one hopes their partnership – onscreen and off – lasts forever.