Lonely writer Calvin (Paul Dano) is struggling to write his second novel when he starts to dream about a young woman. Finally inspired he starts to write the book of their first meeting and subsequent romance. Much to his surprise the girl from his novel appears in his kitchen completely unaware that she is a fictional creation. At first all is well with the enigmatic Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan) but when the cracks in their relationship start to show Calvin finds himself tempted to “tweak” his dream girl by writing more about her. And you thought your boyfriend was controlling.
On the surface Ruby Sparks comes across as yet another typical indie film in which an unattractive male snares a beautiful but damaged manic pixie dream girl but there is much more to the film than that. Ruby Sparks is actually seeming to comment on the very nature of the manic pixie dream girl as the idealised romantic interest for nerds. The film goes to show that these women of fantasy are real, have flaws, and deserve to be treated as full human beings rather than whimsical ideas capable of brightening an otherwise dull existence.
While funny throughout Ruby Sparks is not an out-and-out comedy. Once Calvin and Ruby have settled into a relationship a rather dark idea starts to permeate the film; if you could “fix” your partner would you? Should you? Calvin has Ruby in the most controlling type of relationship, one in which if he wants her to love him differently he can make it so simply by typing it. The scene in which this level of control comes to a head is intense, unsettling, and a little heartbreaking. It is not uncommon in life to love someone and yet somehow hurt them more than you would anyone else.
Zoe Kazan has written a truly intriguing tale looking not just at the way women can be reduced in the male writer’s mind to a collection of quirks with no feelings, but also at the way some people try to control those they love the most. Kazan has taken on the title role herself and puts in an impressive performance as the ever-changing Ruby Sparks. Despite the changing personality there is a single coherent character present. One that both conforms to the manic pixie dream girl stereotype and tries to break out beyond it.
Other people with more impressive names are in this film but it is all down to Kazan and Dano. It is easy to sympathise with both even as one becomes an oppressor and the other simply doesn’t really exist.
Ruby Sparks is in UK cinemas 12th October 2012