Ruby Sparks, starring Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan, recently marked the tenth anniversary since the film’s theatrical release in 2012.
“I started seeing her this morning. It’s like that movie Harvey. Except she’s not a giant rabbit.” – Calvin Weir-Fields
I meant to get to the rewatch ahead of Monday’s 10th anniversary. With the Hall of Fame inductions and home entertainment releases on Tuesday, I simply ran out of time. In any event, the film holds up beautifully over a decade later. The film is among the best indie releases of 2012. It’s hard to tell at the moment just where Ruby Sparks will rank when I redo my top films of 2012 at the end of the year.
Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) is an acclaimed novelist. However, he’s struggling with a terrible case of writer’s block. His current love life doesn’t help matters. After a session with therapist Dr. Rosenthal (Elliott Gould), Calvin begins to get ideas for a new book about a female protagonist. There’s something about Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan) that puts new life into Calvin’s writing. When she surprisingly pops up in his living room, we don’t know what to think. Is Calvin having a breakdown? Is this a dream within a dream? What the hell is going on? In any event, she’s standing right there in his place and he is freaking out. Could you blame him? How would you react if you manifested someone into existence? After she comes into being, Calvin still has power over her because of his typewriter. Will this new relationship survive as he continues writing this new book?
Once Calvin realizes that Ruby isn’t a hallucination, he now has the problem of explaining that she’s real. This starts by talking with his brother, Harry (Chris Messina). Harry provides a grounding for the film. Messina isn’t playing the role with any sort of fantasy approach. He’s the straight man so to speak. In a lot of ways, he’s also representing what the audience might be thinking.
Zoe Kazan’s screenplay is one of the best screenplays of 2012. I mean, the whole concept is stranger-than-fiction. If a writer manifested their creation into existence, nobody would believe them. On the outside looking in, it’s understandable why someone would want to see Ruby Sparks as this Manic Pixie Dream Girl but there’s certainly more to the character than this. What happens when we start to idealize people? Do we even see them as people or just the mere idea of one? There’s plenty of questions to ask. Even with the way the film ends, I’m also left wondering if that’s actually Ruby or just a coincidence that they look alike. On another level, we can look at this film as Zoe Kazan writing her own commentary about the creative process.
Filmmakers Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris took on the film as their second film after crushing it at Sundance with Little Miss Sunshine. Most filmmakers probably wouldn’t wait six years between movies at the start of their career. However, they were coming off of a Best Picture nomination and any project would come with a lot of pressure. In any event, the wait to find the right project was worth it. Once again, producers Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa strike gold by being at the right place at the right time.
What I like about this film is that it manages to stand out in how it explores love. I mean this in a good way, too. It’s not one of those films where it plays along the rom-com beats. There’s a lot of fantasy aspects that are working to the film’s benefit, too. The thing for Calvin is that he has to love all of Ruby, not just the parts that he’s written in the book. As Ruby becomes real, he must move beyond his own insecurities. Back to the fantasy aspect, the film never really explores the sci-fi of it all. If that were the case, it would be a very different movie.
It’s also nice to see the city of Los Angeles being treated like a character in the film. Understandably, this enables us to get into Calvin’s psyche and understand why he ends up writing about Ruby. I mean, this is a guy who lives alone and doesn’t appear to have any friends. His only social life involves family or work obligations that come with being a writer. You really begin to wonder how Calvin can write these successful books when he’s not really living in the real world and having fun. But back to LA, this is a film shot on location more so than soundstages. They shoot in locations such as El Coyote restaurant, Cafe Figaro, Skylight Books, the Egyptian Theatre, and Griffith Park. Calvin’s house was designed by architect J. Frank Fitzgibbons. Sid Krofft’s home stands in for Big Sur.
Ten years after its release, Ruby Sparks remains one of the best films of 2012.
DIRECTORS: Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris
SCREENWRITER: Zoe Kazan
CAST: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Antonio Banderas, Annette Bening, Steve Coogan, Elliott Gould, Chris Messina, Alia Shawkat, Aasif Mandi, Toni Trucks, Deborah Ann Woll
Searchlight Pictures released Ruby Sparks in theaters on July 25, 2012. Grade: 5/5
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