When I first watched the trailer for “Ruby Sparks,” I was nervous. I’ve seen way too many short films, scripts and features that had its male writer shoehorn the women into one of two categories. The first was a representative for punishment, e.g., they end up getting shot at the end of the film. That seems to happen after the screenwriter went through a breakup of some sort. Then the other trope is just as bad: the perfect woman.
She has been called many things, lately the infamous Manic Pixie Dream Girl. All of their flaws are adorable, and their quirkiness is the perfect balance of the “deep” sobering male romantics. They are who they wish they can be with. It’s the gender-flipped Prince Charming but more adorkable.
Ruby Sparks is literally that girl. In the movie, Paul Dano’s Calvin Weir-Fields is a critically beloved novelist at a young age who can’t face the pressure of what to write next. He writes about this perfect girl of whom he dreams. Then, for an unexplained reason, she appears. It is his character down to the very last backstory detail. She arrives believing they have been dating for months.
Calvin is overwhelmed, but then accepts this as a magical miracle. It is the woman of his dreams, most literally. Calvin’s brother Harry is never able to see her as a real person, even after he sees her in the flesh. Harry is the voice of reason through this well-understood story as he appreciates her being there, but a fantasy woman is not a woman.
“Little Miss Sunshine” directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris never push the audience in any direction of how to see Calvin and Ruby until they head toward a darker path. These visual cues feel unnecessary because this is such a well-constructed script able to critique this phenomenon while still telling a satisfying story with well-realized characters.
Since the screenwriter of “Ruby Sparks” also plays Ruby, Zoe Kazan has masterful understanding of Ruby’s relation to the world at any moment. Her ability to change her persona in the blink of an eye is incredible. She has to serve many different roles to Calvin, all of which culminate into a great performance in a character that has no choice but be limiting.
While I’m worried this is billed as a comedy or even a romance, this fits in more as a caustic tale much like a story from “The Twilight Zone.” This one just happens to have a few more sundresses.