DVD Review: Ruby Sparks

Weird Science meets Stranger than Fiction? Perhaps, but Ruby Sparks is so much more.

As young novelist Calvin (Paul Dano) suffers from a severe case of writer's block, he begins to dream of the perfect girl. With encouragement from his psychologist (Elliott Gould), Calvin begins to write about his dreamgirl, Ruby, giving her a real history and personality, once again finding himself immersed in the writing process while falling in love with his creation...until the day he wakes up and finds Ruby (Zoe Kazan) actually standing in his kitchen.

The Manic Pixie Dreamgirl (MPDG) has been a blemish on cinema as of late, causing audiences, particularly real women, to roll their eyes at the painfully stale trope. The MPDGs of late have been given every quirky characteristic imaginable, but instead of being cool ladies with real personalities, they come off more as an obnoxious fantasy of a sadsack loser who's never been in a real relationship or has recently had his heartbroken by a real woman. In other words, they've become little more than a pathetic coping mechanism. But for Ruby it works.

In her script, Kazan points to all the problems with the MPDG and why their neverending portrayal in Hollywood is a real problem. Calvin has serious, psychological issues, having become a world-famous novelist while still a teenager. This clearly led to an unorthodox entrance into adulthood, stunting his ability to really grow up or have a meaningful relationship. So by envisioning Ruby and all of her free-spirited eccentricities, he's able to remain in a satisfied state of arrested development, though he actually believes he's having a breakthrough. However, as the film progresses, Calvin learns that despite creating Ruby's character and personality, she is not satisfied being his beloved MPDG and yearns for more, no matter how hard he tries to keep her a flat stock character. And it's all pretty damn clever and heartbreaking.

The film points out that the bemoaned MPDG (and any female character) should be more than a catalyst for helping the male protagonist move on with his life and grow up. And though Ruby does essentially help Calvin reach the next step, in both his writing and future relationships, she does so by declaring she is a person, with real thoughts and feelings, more than just some fantasy come to life, moving beyond the parameters Calvin set for her.

It's even more intensified when juxtaposed to Calvin's relationship with his mother (Annette Bening) who use to be more of a strict, career woman, but turned into a warm free-spirited hippie after his father's death. Her new way of life with her artist partner (Antonio Banderas) disgust Calvin, though his mother is just an older version of his fantasy girl, evident in the way the two ladies get along. Heavy stuff.

Ruby Sparks accomplishes many things, dealing with the tired cliches of Hollywood in a lovely, whimsical fashion. It's the stuff romantic-comedies should be made of.



    Really interesting and insightful review Rachel. I too liked Ruby, which was clearly a film of two halves; one light and the other dark. Personally I wasn't prepared going in for how dark it went in third act, the trailers for once did a good job in this regard. Dano really did look like the puppet master at times and reminded me a lot of how people try and change each other in relationships.

    Dano and Kazan had real chemistry together, no doubt honed from their off screen relationship. Kazan's script was also impressive. Its quite strange to think she wrote a screenplay about someone writing a book about her character from which she then comes to life and she is now starring in the film as that character…..but enough of this time travel shit as Bruce Willis would say.


    1. Thanks, Will! I wasn't expecting the darkness either, but the dark turn reminded me of the directors' other film, Little Miss Sunshine, so perhaps that's why I easily welcomed it. On repeat viewings I hope to like Ruby as much as LMS someday.

  2. I watched this last night. I was also shocked at how dark and depressing this film got. I was expecting something light and fun, like Stranger Than Fiction. Boy was I wrong. I still liked it, but the tonal shift hit me hard.

    1. It didn't really bother me. I didn't assume that's where it would go, but I thought it fit. And it didn't end on a dark note, so that was good.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.