Anyone who has ever sat down to write has done so with the desire to see their creation burst from the page and come to life in front of their eyes. For Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) this literally comes to pass when the renown young novelist solves his current state of writer’s block by writing about the perfect girlfriend who one day magically shows up, living in his apartment.
At first it may seem odd that Zoe Kazan wrote the screenplay in mind casting herself not as the writer but the creation. However, it’s Ruby Sparks (Kazan), not Calvin, who has the far more demanding role as the woman whose entire behavior must change on a dime depending on what her creator decides to type next.
Dano is well cast as the writer whose best work came far too soon and seems lost, unprepared to deal with his mother’s (Annette Bening) current boyfriend (Antonio Banderas), the suggestions of his psychiatrist (Elliott Gould), the lovable but annoying antics of his dog Scottie, or the advice of his brother (Chris Messina). Calvin instead chooses a solitary life which makes his creation of Ruby Sparks all the more remarkable.
The film is filled with strong performances. Messina nearly steals the entire movie in the scenes where he learns Calvin’s delusions about creating a girlfriend out of thin air are actually true. Deborah Ann Woll has a very small role as Calvin’s villainous ex-girlfriend, the one who broke his heart and ran away right after the death of his father, who in a single scene crystallizes not her faults but those of her former boyfriend. And the always entertaining Steve Coogan puts in a nice supporting role as the man who discovered Calvin and is more than a little envious of the younger man’s talent.
It’s through the eyes of Ruby that we really see Calvin. We see his discomfort with the change in his mother’s lifestyle and her choice for a life partner, his need for control and inability to accept anything he isn’t prepared for, and his total lack of humor about himself. The quirky, lively Ruby Sparks may seem an odd match for the writer, but that’s the point… at least until the reality of the odd couple’s differences begin to overtake the dream.
Ruby Sparks isn’t a perfect film (I never bought that Calvin would actually use a typewriter), especially in terms of tone during the film’s final half-hour. It will also likely remind the viewer of better films dealing with similar plots, themes and characters including Wonder Boys, Stranger than Fiction, and Adaptation. That said, especially from a first-time screenwriter, Ruby Sparks is an entertaining, engaging, and funny tale that captures the highs and lows of the creative process and struggle of a writer to make three-dimensional characters and breathe life into them on the page. It also works well an unconventional love story (complete with a somewhat sappy ending).