Monday, August 20, 2012

Movie Review: Ruby Sparks



About halfway through Ruby Sparks, you forget that you're watching a fantasy. Sure, the hilarious and superbly-acted sequence when literary wunderkind Calvin (Paul Dano) first encounters the corporeal Ruby -- a woman he created with his mind and his typewriter -- is fresh in your mind, and the film's central premise is not lost to you, but after so many scenes of understated simplicity you simply forget that Ruby's very existence is an inexplicable phenomenon.

You find yourself, instead, watching a rom-com not unlike many others. Boy meets girl, boy loves girl, boy and girl meets boys parents, complications ensue and boy and girl's relationship strains.
Unlike most rom-coms, however, and unlike actual love stories, in Ruby Sparks boy is able to control girl — literally — a power that he sets aside once the beautiful waif appears in his kitchen, cooking eggs in her underwear.

Sets aside, that is, until desperation, loneliness, jealousy, and petty insecurities drive him to sit back down at his typewriter and "tweak" the girl of his dreams. A sentence here, a personality trait there, until finally the very dark implications of "reality" come crashing in on the light "fantasy," culminating in an emotional, difficult-to-watch, yet fascinating climax that suggests in all-to-real visuals the error in trying to control and change another human being.

That is the film's central theme. You can't change the ones you love, you can only change yourself. It's a theme that directing duo Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine) achieve masterfully with a script by Kazan through implicit metaphor and explicit demonstration. It's a heavy thought, wrapped up in a light, fluffy shell of playful whimsey and dusted with a delicious yet ultimately unsatisfying finish.

But while the film's conclusion may leave you wanting, everything up to that point delivers in spades. The casting is superb, with real-life couple Dano and Kazan providing all the hipster-chemistry you could ask for, backed up by a impressive bench, including Antonio Banderas as a Big Sur free spirit, Elliot Gould as a supportive therapist, Steve Coogan as a Steve-Coogan-dirtbag and Chris Messina as Calvin's big brother and confidante. The set pieces are such that you'll want to hop in a convertible and make for the coast as soon as the credits role and the soundtrack and score perfectly support the emotion and imagery.

I would have traded one less "I Love You" montage in favor of a peak at Calvin's maturation. Instead we are left to assume that he has learned his lesson and are given what feels like a throw-away catharsis in the final moments. That said, the film delivers and left me re-thinking its scenes long after I had left the theater. B+

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