Ruby Sparks (2012)
Director: Jonathan Daylon & Valerie Faris
Cast: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, Steve Coogan
Plot: A novelist struggling with writer's block finds romance in a most unusual way: by creating a female character he thinks will love him, then willing her into existence.
Genre: Comedy / Fantasy / Romance
Rating: NC16 for language including some sexual references, and for some drug use.
From the quirky minds of Jonathan Daylon and Valerie Faris comes Ruby Sparks, a decent follow-up to Little Miss Sunshine (2006), the Oscar-winning film that made Abigail Breslin one of the most promising child actresses of her generation.
This time round, the directing duo have picked Paul Dano for the film's male lead, and it is one of the more effective yet fascinating casting decisions of the year. Dano, who made his mark opposite the great Daniel Day-Lewis no less in P.T. Anderson's modern American masterpiece There Will Be Blood (2007), shows off his idiosyncratic yet hypnotic acting style in this well-written romance-drama.
Dano plays Calvin, a genius writer having a serious writer's block. Until he starts writing about a girl that keeps appearing in his dreams. He names her Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan). As the intriguing premise goes, one fine day, Ruby, the product of Calvin's imagination, comes to life in the author's home.
Henceforth, expect some hilarious and bizarre circumstances that surely will make you smile. The screenplay is not exactly ingenious, but it comes close to giving you the feeling of sipping freshly-squeezed juice. Such wonderment, such sweetness. This is The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) for a new generation.
Only if it had been more tonally consistent. The film switches from saccharine romantic drama to situations of relational conflict quite awkwardly, sometimes too abruptly. The climatic sequence sees Calvin dealing with Ruby in the only way he knows how - by typing on his typewriter to register change, both behavioural and attitudinal, in his partner.
This sequence is meant to achieve some sense of poignancy in the audience, but it is somewhat overwhelmed by a textually aggressive display of male domination (and in some ways, sadism). But we are inclined to ride on in this emotional journey of self-discovery nevertheless.
Ruby Sparks is something more than a date movie. It takes the magic of love and transforms it in curiously intriguing ways. Can love ever be manipulated? Can lovers always strike a balance in their relationship?
Perhaps the most important takeaway question to ask from the film is whether the idealized notion of love can be most perfect when it is riddled with imperfections. Love may be magical, but humans aren't magicians. We are ultimately more comfortable with reality than illusion.
Verdict: An intriguing premise and wonderful chemistry between the two leads make this The Purple Rose of Cairo for a new generation.
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