out of Five
Running time: 104
Deceptively light and frequently laugh-out-loud funny on the surface, Ruby Sparks is a hugely enjoyable, superbly written and brilliantly acted fantasy relationship comedy that eventually reveals a much darker undercurrent and is ultimately both thought-provoking and powerfully emotional.
What's it all about?
Co-directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine) and written by Zoe Kazan, Ruby Sparks stars Paul Dano (Kazan's real-life partner) as single 29 year old Cal, who's still struggling with writer's block ten years after having written an acclaimed first novel. Encouraged by his therapist (Elliott Gould) to complete an exercise, he writes about Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan), a girl he has seen in his dreams, only for her to magically appear in his apartment, unaware that she is his creation, her personality dictated by whatever he writes.
At first, Cal naturally thinks he's cracking up, but when it turns out that other people can see and interact with Ruby too, he accepts his good fortune and the pair fall in love. However, when Ruby starts to have opinions and desires of her own, Cal begins to subtly tweak her personality, with disastrous results.
Paul Dano is terrific as Cal, managing to keep him just the right side of sympathetic, even when his manipulating behaviour spirals out of control. Similarly, Zoe Kazan is utterly adorable as Ruby and there's superb support from Chris Messina (as Cal's brother Harry, whom Cal lets in on his secret), Steve Coogan (as Cal's slightly sleazy literary mentor) and Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas (as Cal's parents), as well as brief but memorable turns from Alia Shawkat (as an obsessive fan) and Deborah Ann Woll as Cal's ex-girlfriend.
The clever script has a lot of fun with its central conceit, including a brilliantly executed dig against the Manic-Pixie-Dream-Girl-type character beloved of so many sub-par romcoms; at one point Cal writes that ‘Ruby is deliriously happy about everything’ and the character descends into a rapidly irritating and distinctly familiar cliché.
That said, the strength of the script is that although its surface resembles a quirky feelgood fantasy romcom and is frequently laugh-out-loud funny, there's actually something much darker and more disturbing going on underneath and the climax of the film (complete with a deceptively ambiguous final scene) is both thought-provoking and powerfully emotional.
Impressively directed and superbly written, Ruby Sparks is a hugely enjoyable, thought-provoking and darkly funny fantasy relationship comedy with terrific performances from Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan. Highly recommended.