Ruby Sparks is a good blend of a light on-the-the ball comedy and deeper emotional drama, with a plot that digs deeper into issues that are usually glassed over. Nineteen-year-old Calvin was a prodigal writer with a widely critically acclaimed novel. Ten years later and he’s lost all inspiration and motivation to write, is in regular therapy and has a family member for a best friend, until he writes about a girl from his dreams. When Ruby becomes real through his writing, Calvin has to wrestle with suddenly dating the girl of his dreams as well as the benefits and drawbacks of holding so much power in what he types.

With a premise such as this, it can be a hard task to avoid the fairy-tale and predictable ‘hijinks’ that usually surface, but this is neatly avoided as plot delves into deeper issues surrounding the difficulty of relationships and less on the absurdity of the situation.  In fact, the impossibility of Ruby is almost entirely ignored, meaning no time is wasted on exploring overdone and nonsensical theories.

Despite the script being penned by a previously amateur screenwriter, it’s refreshing, solid and very sharp. The characterisation is strong and again side steps a lot of potential clichés. Kazan adds a very real fragility and believability to Ruby, both as a writer and an actor, succeeding in the task of granting humanity to an ‘imaginary’ character.

An arguably weak part of the script is in the ending which concludes a little too timidly and potentially gives into to clichés at the last moment after having been avoided so tenaciously throughout. It can perhaps be forgiven though simply because it could have been much worse and it’s only crime is in it not being quite as strong at the rest.

Playing to their strengths, Little Miss Sunshine Directors, Jonathan Dayton and Valarie Faris easily twist the tone from relaxed, indie comedy to something quite sinister and dark just when it was starting to feel too familiar; adding a whole new depth to the film by exploring consequences that complete power over a person entails, a point that stays with you. Ruby Sparks’ is shot beautifully in the striking indie style that the directors have perfected before and adds a near perfect a visually lovely accompaniment to the action.

The casting choices are also a real strong point. Paul Dano shines as Calvin under the familiar direction of Dayton and Faris and is yet another actor who is effortlessly defying the Hollywood norms of a lead male actor. He shares the screen with Zoe Kazan as Ruby Sparks, who doubles as the screenwriter. There’s always that feeling of trepidation when a writer casts himself or herself as a lead, but Zoe has a realistic view of her capability and fills the role excellently.

Meanwhile the supporting cast of characters, featuring some very familiar faces, make a lasting impression even when given only a snippet of film time. Antonio Banderas, Annette Bening, Steve Coogan and Elliot Goud delivers some of the best lines with well-practiced comic timing, giving relaxed, humorous performances which keep a light tone to Ruby Sparks whilst letting their younger co-stars flourish.

Ruby Sparks has some stunning moments and any reservations about the premise should be suspended. This is definitely worth a watch, purely for its talented new screenwriter and fantastic cast.

Joseph Scanlon

 

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