Thursday, April 11, 2013

Ruby Sparks

Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris and written and starring Zoe Kazan, Ruby Sparks is the story of a novelist struggling to write a novel as he creates his idea of the perfect woman only for her to actually come to life. The film is a look into the world of writers and their imagination and how their creation can sometimes go out of control. Also starring Paul Dano, Elliott Gould, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, Chris Messina, and Steve Coogan. Ruby Sparks is a witty and charming film from Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris.

The world of writing often contains struggles where one person has this big success yet has trouble comprehending why it was successful in the first place and how to create a follow-up worthy of that success. In this film, it is about a young writer whose first novel was considered a classic yet it’s been 10 years since he wrote a new novel as he’s struggle to write a second one. Dealing with writer’s block and a break-up, he suddenly has these dreams about his idea of the perfect woman where he writes about her. Then she appears out of nowhere as they would have a relationship while he realizes that he can do things to her through his typewriter only for things to eventually go out of control. Even as the writer is forced to face some harsh truths about himself and all of his flaws as his relationship with his creation starts to wind down.

Zoe Kazan’s screenplay is largely a comedy though it does have a lot of truths into what writers go through when they try to write. A lot of it involves writers just facing the blank page and having no idea what to do as Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) has a lot of pressure on him to deliver the second novel. Kazan’s script does reveal the pratfalls of the sophomore slump where Calvin spends his time talking to his shrink (Elliott Gould) and his brother Harry (Chris Messina) revealing all of his problems. Then comes these dreams that appear in Calvin’s head as he sees his idea of the perfect woman in this titular character that Kazan also plays. She is definitely someone who is quirky, offbeat, comical, melancholic, twee, and all of the things that Calvin wants. Once Harry learns what Calvin has created, he encourages him to do things as if Calvin is the creator.

After introducing Ruby to his mother (Annette Bening) and stepfather (Antonio Banderas) where Ruby seems to enjoy herself and starts to flesh out on her own. Calvin starts to take control as the second act winds down yet it eventually goes out of control where Ruby becomes more complicated as if she was human as she becomes needy, lazy, fluent in French, and all sorts of things as it’s done in a comical but also light-dramatic manner. Even as the third act is a bit dramatic as it unveils more of Calvin’s flaws as a person and as a writer where he has to face some truths about himself.

The direction of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris is quite straightforward in terms of its framing and presentation yet they manage to keep things very lively throughout the film. Notably as it’s shot largely in Los Angeles and parts of California where it is this sunny world where a young writer is struggling to create his second novel. A lot of it involves simple shots that are carefully framed to establish this sense of difficulty a man faces as a writer while it includes some scenes where Calvin has to attend Q&A sessions about his first book to explore the world of the writer. Things loosen up once Ruby appears in the film as there’s elements of dream-like sequences as well as a scene where Calvin imagines Ruby’s life as he lies down on a couch during a therapy session. There are scenes that add a sense of improvisation and chaos to play out the comedy where it is very stylized as well as the drama that occurs in the third act. Overall, Dayton and Faris create a very fascinating and engaging comedy-drama about creation and how imagination can become reality.

Cinematographer Matthew Libatique does excellent work with the film‘s colorful cinematography as it plays to the beauty of the Californian locations as well as some of its nighttime scenes in Los Angeles. Editor Pamela Martin does nice work with the editing as it‘s quite stylized with the use of jump-cuts to capture some of the energy of the humor as well as a few fade-outs to help structure the story. Production designer Judy Becker, with set decorator Matthew Flood Ferguson and art director Alexander Wei, does amazing work with the look of Calvin‘s home as well as the bohemian home of his mother and stepfather.

Costume designer Nancy Steiner does wonderful work with the costumes in the stylish clothes that Ruby wears from her colorful socks to the dresses she wears. Sound editors Aaron Glascock and Byron Wilson do superb work with the sound from the intimacy of Calvin‘s home to some of the moments at the social gatherings Calvin and Ruby attend. The film’s music by Nick Urata is brilliant for its lush, orchestral score to play out some of the humor and romantic elements of the film. Music supervisor Dan Wilcox creates a fantastic soundtrack that consists a mix of classical music, French pop, and some indie music.

The casting by Justine Baddeley and Kim Davis-Wagner is just phenomenal for the ensemble that is created as it features some memorable small appearances from Aasif Mandvi as Calvin’s agent Cyrus, Toni Trucks as Harry’s wife Susie, Alia Shawkat as a fan of Calvin’s whom he met at the Q&A session, and Deborah Ann Woll as Calvin’s ex-girlfriend Lila who confronts him at a party. Elliott Gould is excellent as Calvin’s therapist Dr. Rosenthal who tries to understand Calvin while Steve Coogan is superb as a fellow novelist who tries to give Calvin some advice. Chris Messina is wonderful as Calvin’s older brother Harry who is baffled by Ruby’s appearance as he gives Calvin some advice on what to do with Ruby. Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas are great in their respective roles as Calvin’s bohemian mother Gertrude and his artistic stepfather Mort where they are a joy to watch as they bring more fun to the film.

Paul Dano is brilliant as Calvin Weir-Fields as a young man just troubled by the pressures he has as a writer as he’s seeking some form of inspiration as Dano has this great sense of comic timing and dramatic humility to make Calvin an engaging and flawed individual. Finally, there’s Zoe Kazan in a remarkable performance as the titular character as she displays all of the attributes of what an ideal dream girl is as well as distorting it to make her a more realistic person who is very flawed and complicated. It’s truly a real breakthrough for Kazan as she and Dano are the highlights of the film with their approach to comedy and drama.

Ruby Sparks is a marvelous film from Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris that features an amazing ensemble cast and a very captivating and humorous script from its star and screenwriter Zoe Kazan. It’s a film that doesn’t just explore the world of the writers but also subverts the idea of reality and fantasy to see how the creation can go overboard and overwhelm the creator. In the end, Ruby Sparks is a sensational film from Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris.

Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris Films: Little Miss Sunshine - Battle of the Sexes (2017 film)

© thevoid99 2013


Nikhat said...

Awesome review! I really loved this film. It was a kind of film I would want to make. Dano and Kazan were brilliant.

Chris said...

I didn't love Ruby Sparks as much you did, but it was indeed an interesting concept, with fine performances. The scenes when they are just getting to know each other in the park and at the pool are my favorites. As well as when he stops and starts her.

thevoid99 said...

@Nikhat-I had fun watching this film and being a writer myself, I was able to relate to it a bit.

@Chris-It's a concept that I think works because it is about a writer trying to create something yet having to face his own flaws. Plus, how could you not fall for Ruby?