When Little Miss Sunshine came out in 2006, its directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris were relatively unknown, and in the six years since they’ve sunk back into oblivion. They’re finally back with Ruby Sparks, but unfortunately this one isn’t going to do their reputation any favors.
In what is perhaps an unfortunate parallel to the careers of the film’s directors, it focuses on Calvin (played by Paul Dano) as a writer who made a name for himself with a book he wrote ten years ago but hasn’t done anything since. All his attempts to get unblocked have been unsuccessful, but he has recently been having a recurring dream about a girl. His therapist (played by Elliott Gould) suggests writing about her, even if it’s not very good, just to help get him back in the habit of writing. And it works.
Calvin starts writing a love story about this “girl of his dreams”, who he names Ruby Sparks. The more he writes, the more real she becomes and the more he begins to fall in love with his character. But then strange things start happening, and he begins to find articles of women’s clothing lying around the house. And then one day, Ruby appears (played by Zoe Kazan, who also wrote the screenplay). Calvin can’t believe it at first, but everything about her past is exactly as he wrote it. But it’s when he starts to write her present that the problems emerge.
I found Ruby Sparks to be a very difficult movie to watch. The film unfolds in exactly the way you would expect from the premise, and its easily-exasperated and overly-emotional characters kill any sense of fun that it could have provided. The “fictional character comes to life” story has been done a lot (e.g., Pleasantville and The Purple Rose of Cairo, both of which feature great Jeff Daniels performances), and Stranger than Fiction provides an even closer parallel with an author knowingly writing the life of a character that has come to life.
On top of the relatively uninteresting way of telling an uncreative story, I found a number of the supporting characters to be rather annoying. Calvin’s mother and her hippie boyfriend (Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas) seem to be there purely for comic relief, but their scenes were painful and the only relief came when they were over. Steve Coogan, Aasif Mandvi, and Alia Shawkat also have small roles in the film but their talents appear to be largely squandered. In telling her story about a struggling author, it seems that Kazan may also be exposing herself as a less-than-proficient screenwriter.