“There has to be space in a relationship, otherwise it’s like we’re the same person.” It might seem like a line from any romantic comedy, but when delivered by the eponymous love interest of Ruby Sparks, the sentiment is significantly magnified. With Ruby (Zoe Kazan) having been somehow brought to life by the writing of her lover Calvin (Paul Dano), the pair are literally the products of one mind.
It all begins when Calvin, a depressed young novelist, pays a visit to his psychiatrist (Elliot Gould). With writer’s block severely draining his self-worth, Calvin’s therapist assigns a simple task: to write one page, no matter how bad. What Calvin writes about is Ruby – a lively, free-spirited young lady whose existence would brighten up his life. Invigorated, he types page after page before excitedly showing the work to his brother, Harry (Chris Messina). The critique is not what he hopes for. “You haven’t written a person, you’ve written a girl.” Where Ruby is a construct, people are complicated, Harry insists. So imagine Calvin’s surprise when he wakes up to find his creation standing in his kitchen.
Directed by husband and wife Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine), the film breathes new life into its genre, and with its central conceit lying somewhere between Weird Science and Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, the script (written by Kazan) does wisely to eschew any explanation of how Ruby becomes real. All that matters is that she is. Appearing at first to be the perfect antidote to Calvin’s world, she allows him to forget the pressures of writing and the canon that stands behind him (she hasn’t even heard of F. Scott Fitzgerald), but things soon become strained.
Yet with Calvin realising he can change Ruby with each sentence he writes, his attempts to iron out her flaws shift between the amusing and the unsettling. As Calvin begins ignoring his partner’s needs in order to satisfy his own, the script displays incisive understanding of the balances required to make love work; balances not only between companionship and individuality, but also between expectation and reality.
With many recent films utilising the trend of the ‘manic pixie dream girl’, it’s ironic that Ruby Sparks should be one of the first to imagine her as a person and not just a fantasy.
Patrick has awarded Ruby Sparks four Torches of Truth.