Ruby Sparks is directed by husband-wife directors Jonathon Dayton and Valerie Faris and stars Paul Dano as Calvin Weir-Fields, a writer trying to cope with a loss of inspiration ten years after his first novel was a success, and Zoe Kazan (who also wrote the screenplay) as Ruby, Calvin’s dream-girl. Ruby is a figment of Calvin’s imagination who comes to life one morning and the plot is based around this idea.
It’s impossible to ignore the similarities between this film’s screenplay and the Woody Allen film The Purple Rose of Cairo, in which a brave adventure-movie hero – Mia Farrow’s dream man – steps off the screen into reality. The comparison is very unflattering to Kazan however, as the blunt humour of Ruby Sparks doesn’t compare with the sharp wit of Allen’s film and references to JD Salinger and F. Scott Fitzgerald seem contrived and hollow in contrast with Allen’s self-evident knowledge and insight into all things literary.
One element that Kazan should definitely have borrowed from Allen’s film is the way in which the supernatural event is dealt with by the characters. Where Purple Rose treated it with humour and a “this is how it is” attitude, in Ruby Sparks we go through the event repeatedly, first with Calvin then his brother, then several times throughout the bulk of the film, and one last time when Calvin is explaining it to Ruby herself. Considering that this is a Groundhog Day-type cinematic miracle, we know we will never get an explanation of why this is happening so the repeated references to how weird and unusual it is makes it feel like a futile uphill slog with no respite at the end.
The directors’ music-video origins come into play here, but unlike the pre-teen beauty pageant in their previous film Little Miss Sunshine, in which Abigail Breslin’s wild dance was outrageously unexpected, here we simply have a number of “oh isn’t life grand” scenes of driving in the sun and dancing in night-clubs which denote nothing. These scenes do underline the inherent creepiness of the high concept but it feels unintentional, as if Dayton and Faris were ignoring the point of their own film in favour of pasting pleasant images together.
Ultimately, Ruby Sparks is a simple, inoffensive allegory for the creative process, about a genius written and directed by individuals who will probably not be confused as such any time soon. In cinemas 12 October 2012. Watch the trailer now on MEG.ie.