Courtesy of Merrick Morton
It’s a classic boy-meets-girl scenario. Boy meets girl, girl falls in love with boy, boy lives happily ever after. If it sounds like something’s missing; it’s because the girl doesn’t exist. At least, not outside the mind of her creator or the collective imagination of the audience. She is only there to serve one purpose: to make the boy more real.
For those unfamiliar with the manic pixie dream girl trope so elegantly demonstrated by films like “500 Days of Summer” or “Garden State,” a lovelorn and dejected boy will meet the girl of his dreams who will awaken him out of his mundane stupor. It’s a fantasy, a wish for this brilliantly quirky girl to come storming into our lives to right all the wrongs we never bothered fixing. It’s also a bit creepy.
In a hilarious and disturbingly accurate deconstruction of the romantic comedy, “Ruby Sparks” wears its animosity to the genre on its sleeves, literally giving our mousy protagonist the girl of his dreams, only to have his socially privileged expectations get in the way.
Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano, “Being Flynn”) is a former best-selling writer struggling with writer’s block and a non-existent social life, only talking to his brother and his therapist. In a sudden burst of creativity stemming from a dream, Calvin writes a story about Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan, “Meek’s Cutoff”), a girl from Dayton, Ohio, who has fallen in love with him. In a weird fantastical twist, Ruby suddenly exists in real life and has been living with Calvin as if what he had written had come true.
After all the romance and sappiness had come to pass, the movie surprisingly delved in to what came after “happily ever after.” And it was not the picture of perfection you would expect. The mood gets sufficiently creepy in third act of the movie, revealing some of Calvin’s selfish and misogynistic characteristics.
Dano is superb in his role as the introverted and diffident Calvin, and he’s even better as his character becomes less and less sympathetic. Dano is also unexpectedly good at physical comedy, selling the movie’s far-fetched storyline with his hilariously perplexed performance.
But screenwriter and actress Kazan shines as Ruby, a fictional girl who gets a little too uncomfortably real for Calvin. Although she starts off as a cliché, she becomes a pivotal participant in her own fate.
The members of the supporting cast, including Annette Bening (“The Kids Are All Right”), Antonio Banderas (“Haywire”) and Steve Coogan (“Our Idiot Brother”), dutifully perform their roles with little to note, except for Chris Messina (“Like Crazy”) as Calvin’s brother Harry, who toes the line between caring and arrogant.
The film gleefully plays with rom-com expectations, adding in many a cheesy line and sentimental romantic montage. The darker tone of the movie makes these initially shallow parts of the film seem purposefully self-aware, though the lighter ending takes away the bite of the movie’s message.
“Ruby Sparks” is a lot funnier and a lot less heavy than this review is making it out to be. It’s genuinely good-spirited and comedic. Although it suffers a bit from falling into the traditional romantic-comedy traps, “Ruby Sparks” is a funny, escapist look into the pitfalls of romance.