The film trailer for Ruby Sparks presents the film as a “quirky”, “charming” and utterly romantic post-modern rom-com that “audiences will fall in love yet” and which is brought to you by “the director’s that brought you Little Miss Sunshine”. But just as Little Miss Sunshine (directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris) was quirky and charming and had audiences falling over themselves with laughter and adoration, Ruby Sparks has a dark undertone that sets it aside as more than quirky; it could even be described as clever.
Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) is a hugely successful novelist who wrote and published his first book when he was 19 and has since, for the past 10 years, been struggling with writers block. His therapist encourages him to write a page about someone who sees his smelly, flawed dog and likes him anyway, a page which he would prefer to be bad. Suddenly Calvin dreams up a girl, a girl who doesn’t read and doesn’t want to have meaningless sex with him because of who he is, a girl who understands the irony of his dog, and still likes him anyway.
Transfixed with a girl he names Ruby (Zoe Kazan), Calvin can’t stop writing as he wants to spend time with her. Suddenly, one morning, she’s there in his kitchen like she’s been there all along, he has manifested the perfect girl and he can make her do anything when he sits at his typewriter and writes. Deciding that living is more important than writing, and enjoying time with this miracle is the best possible use of his time, Calvin puts the pages away and enters into a quirky, charming, “look how perfect and alive we are” montage until Ruby stops being a character and starts to become a real person.
At the heart of this film is a portrait of the writer-character relationship and I couldn’t help but wonder how much J. K. Rowling cried when she killed off Dumbledore. Calvin falls in love with Ruby through the act of writing and finds her so real that she becomes real. Writers often claim that the characters have a mind of their own and at a certain point, they begin to write their own stories. Allowing them to can often be the hardest part of assuming the creative controls over a persons life, real or imagined.
Ruby Sparks is a charming film about love, relationships and loss, real or imagined, that gets to the very heart of a writers passion. Ironically the screenplay was written by Ruby herself, Zoe Kazan. Wrap your head around that meta-crisis and you’re in for a treat.
Ruby Sparks is in Australian cinemas from 20 September through 20th Century Fox.