There's a scene that appears late in the 2012 rom-com Ruby Sparks in which the writer character of Calvin Wer-Fields (played by Paul Dano) is doing a public reading from his latest book, in which he says:
"One may read this and think it's magic, but falling in love is an act of magic...so is writing."
Ironic, because by this late juncture, it screamed out to me what was wrong with this film....movies are also magic.
Where was the magic in Ruby Sparks?
Wer-Fields is introduced to us as a formerly successful novelist, staring at his old school typewriter, with a nasty case of writer's block. Adding to his anxiety is his high maintenance dog Scotty (who "pees like a girl") and his brother Harry, constantly on his sibling's back regarding the writer's lack of success (or even effort) regarding the opposite sex.
Calvin may have one thing going to shake his creativity awake - a reoccurring dream about a girl who is a painter (and doesn't know who F. Scott Fitzgerald is). This inspires and he works on a story, including complete background bios, about a writer spending time with this imaginary lady of his dreams...
...imaginary? Bras, panties and women's shaving kits start appearing in Calvin's home...and then, one morning, she shows up - in the flesh (lots of flesh), standing in his kitchen wearing a shirt and not much else, eating cereal. Of course Calvin comes to the conclusion he is losing his mind...except it turns out that others can see Ruby too. He has not only "manifested a woman with (his) mind" but one that he can control by whatever he types about her; if he wants Ruby to be a great cook...or speak French...no problem. The rest of the film concerns itself with how "normal" a life Calvin can live with his extraordinary creation.
Ruby Sparks stars Zoe Kazan in the title role...she also wrote the screenplay...and acts opposite Dano, her real-life boyfriend. Yes, you may insert the words "vanity project" at this point, because that's what this smug, self-indulgent project comes across as.
The aforementioned script alternates between being lazy and strained. Elements repeat more than progress and then the scene where Calvin decides to reveal who the puppet master really is created one of the most embarrassing spectacles (albeit, an impressively energetic performance from Kazan) that I have had the misfortune of witnessing for a long time. Even the presence of Hollywood heavyweights Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas and Elliot Gould in supporting roles does little to improve the viewing. While Kazan actually handles a lot of her own material with sexy, sassy charm, Dano is too uncharismatic to emerge from this looking anymore than a young paled wannabe Woody Allen clone. On top of this, for a pair of real-life lovers, he and Kazan display a clumsy brand of chemistry on screen.
Writer's block. Solipsistic and selfish male egos running amok. A writer's influence over others (Stranger Than Fiction, anyone?). All of this has been done before and with superior results.
I'm the kind of movie watcher who could easily be accused of accepting sappy for sweet in cinema, so it actually surprised me how much I intensely disliked this film. I seem to be in the minority - the Tomato Meter ratings are more than respectable for Ruby Sparks. But as much as I would have liked being a member of the fan club of this movie, the idea behind it was defeated by Kazan's script, Dano's clumsy performance and the Jonathan Dayton/Valerie Faris Little Miss Sunshine directors duo at the helm. I'll pay my membership dues elsewhere.
I say this film tastes - ARTIFICIAL.
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