Though the concept borrows a little from Marc Forster’s Stranger Than Fiction, it’s not long before Ruby Sparks fills you with excitement, a pace and intrigue. The film feels youthful and imaginative, it’s an idea you’ve never really seen before, and shocks novellist Calvin Weir-Fields (Dano) when he finds himself at the heart of it.
Struggling with writer’s block after a hugely successful debut, when one night Calvin dreams of romance with a sparky red head, it seems at he’s found the protagonist of his new book, but she quickly becomes the subject of his life too.
Walking his dog in the park the next day, he bumps into a young lady more than a little familiar. Matching up perfectly to the girl literally from his dreams, they hit it off straight away and Calvin has fallen for Miss Ruby Sparks before he realises what’s going on.
As Calvin continues to pen the pages of his book, the exploits and character of his protagonist are reflected in his real life girl. But when mood swings start to tip her over the edge, Calvin must try to muster the courage to cut her loose and relinquish his control, and with it, his perfect woman.
If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ll be expecting a happy-go-lucky, joyful and positive movie, but in honest, three quarters of the film are quite the opposite. With Calvin in a spiral, at last when he starts to pull himself back up for air, he sends Ruby into depression instead, with the finale turning the favour over to you.
Paul Dano plays the lead well but he can’t do much with the moody, troubled body he’s given. Before long all signs of positivity are drowned out and it turns Ruby Sparks into more of an arduous watch than it ever should have been.
Writing the film too, Zoe Kazan plays Sparks, revelling in the freedom of the role and a character with no boundaries. In fact it’s this supporting cast that really save the film from being a truly dour affair. Antonio Banderas steals the show as Calvin’s mother’s hippy boyfriend. He possesses the free spirit and excitability I had hoped of the whole film, so if Kazan came back to write a film just based around that couple, I’d start queuing up right away.
At the finale the movie borders on the ridiculous while overtones of Woody Allen at least make it all feel like you’re at home, even if Ruby Sparks is without his whimsy.
The hit and miss nature of Ruby Sparks is a surprise given it’s from the same duo that brought us Little Miss Sunshine. This is nowhere near as rounded and feels oddly like a directorial debut. Maybe it lacked real love in the editing room, or narrative craft while on set, and yet despite the problems it’s still not entirely without merit.