The trailer for Ruby Sparks is almost a cruel tease. It promises you a film full of love and laughter, wonder and romance. You expect a delightful indie rom-com, featuring a quintessentially quirky girl whose faults just make her even more endearing. After all this is a film about a writer who dreams about his perfect woman, and then when he writes about her she comes to life. But when you watch the full film what you find is something different than the usual indie rom-com fare, something deeper.
Calvin (Paul Dano) is writer who is struggling to come up with an idea for a follow-up to his highly successful first novel. He starts seeing a psychiatrist (Elliot Gould) and when given a writing assignment as part of his therapy he writes about Ruby (Zoe Kazan), a girl he’d seen in his dreams. When the character then comes to life exactly as he wrote her, he finds he can control everything about her through his writing.
Ruby and Calvin have a whirlwind romance and everything is perfect, until Calvin takes her home to meet the parents. After this trip Ruby begins to become too real for Calvin, she becomes more then the character he wrote and expresses wants and needs and the desire to have her own life. The irony here is when Calvin’s brother, Harry (Chris Messina), first reads Calvin’s pages about Ruby (before she becomes real) he accuses Calvin of writing a girl who was not realistic. Calvin’s lack of knowledge of women had led him to create an ideal of a woman – whose only flaws endear you to her more. Harry points out that women have wants and needs, tempers and bad days and downsides; but Ruby, as Calvin wrote her, has none of that. Which explains why Calvin takes Ruby’s evolution into a real person so badly. He decides to fix it through writing her to behave exactly as he wants.
While Ruby is the star of the show, and Zoe Kazan is fantastic, the main protagonist here is Calvin which is problematic. Calvin is rich, privileged, neurotic, selfish and completely oblivious to his faults. The film does little to create sympathy for him and this makes it tough to enjoy.
Kazan, who in addition to starring also wrote the script, has penned a film that calls up comparisons to Stranger Than Fiction and Adaptation, but with a more feminist edge. Ruby is a creation that feels real, everything she does is controlled by Calvin but he can’t control her depression which rises when isn’t controlling her. The frustration and anger that Calvin feels at this takes the script down a dark path that is somewhat spoiled by the light ending, which Calvin doesn’t necessarily deserve.