From Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the directing team that last put their feature directing names to Little Miss Sunshine six years ago, comes another stylish, funny and poignant drama. As a pair they strive to create innovative productions, skulking on the borderlands of the mainstream, delighting audiences that appreciate their vision of social eclecticism. All of the tales they turn their hands to end up being witty, vibrant and undeniably brilliant.
This doesn’t come without outstanding scripting and formidable acting prowess. Zoe Kazan has clearly been seriously overlooked as just an actor of some note in the likes of Revolutionary Road, Meek’s Cutoff, Happythankyoumoreplease and Me & Orson Welles (amongst many others). Here she writes a devilishly smart screenplay that delights as much as it impresses and even takes the time to glow as the beautiful titular Ruby to boot. Is there nothing this slip of a girl can’t do? I hate her. Or I love her.
Playing her love interest here is real life beau Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine, Being Flynn, Meek’s Cutoff) who plays a currently desolate novellist by the name of Calvin Weir-Fields who in a plot not immediately disimilar to Weird Science, creates his perfect woman, by what seems to be nothing more than his imagination. This poor creative man with writers block, who doesn’t really suffer too much for his art, despite his efforts to convince us otherwise, agrees to write a short piece for his shrink (Elliot Gould, excellent but criminally under-used, as usual) in order to get him writing again. What spews out of him onto the page is so filled with enthusiasm that he would rather write about this woman he has created for his story than leave the house. He writes her so well as to make her real, it seems…
But this miracle comes with its own set of moral quandaries. If you can create a person to be anything you want them to be, then when do you stop? Having power of everything over another human being is something of a responsibility. So the creator is in danger of becoming a puppeteer, which is where all of the happiness, love and joy of this alleged romantic comedy begins to crumble.
From incredulous beginnings, a relationship blossoms. Calvin introduces Ruby to his family, only choosing to share his fantastic story, however, to his initially sceptical (and who wouldn’t be?) brother Harry (Chris Messina) who is the token red-blooded male that can’t see any farther than how to exploit Calvin’s delicate and beautiful creation. It’s an unfortunately well considered caricature from Kazan, which will make most of the audience laugh out loud.
Completing the main cast is Calvin and Harry’s new age earth mother, Annette Bening, all kaftans and medicinal plants and her second husband Mort, played by Antonio Banderas.
As a morality tale, it is not altogether clear as to its message and the finale highlights this ambiguity, with a closing scene scene that is frankly beneath the rest of the film in terms of quality storytelling. Altogether, Ruby Sparks is everything I expected it to be, for which I am grateful, because I had already set the bar fairly high. Excellent writing, accomplished directing and credible acting performances make this a slow burn indie hit just waiting to impress you.