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Film Diary 2012: Ruby Sparks
The second film from Little Miss Sunshine directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris seems, at first, to be a similarly bright and breezy affair, albeit with a somewhat more fantastical twist.
Calvin (Paul Dano) is a writer, ten years ago he had great success with his debut novel, but since then he's felt uninspired, content to coast along on the slowly diminshing waves of his early fame. But he's lonely and begins having dreams about a girl who, after a few prompts from his psychiatrist Dr. Rosenthal (Elliot Gould), he finds inspiration in and begins writing about.
Suddenly, and unexpectedly, Ruby is there (played by the film's writer Zoe Kazan), in his apartment, in the flesh and, even more bizarrely, other people can see her too.
In some respects the film has shades of the Will Ferrell comedy Stranger Than Fiction (mixed in with a subdued version of Weird Science), but, fortunately this film isn't particularly concerned with the technicalities of its magical realism. Instead it, for the most part, uses its quirky concept to look at how people's expectations of what love is and should be like can ultimately hurt one another and themselves. Unfortunately, the film takes a couple of turns which confuse and, most disappointingly, undo the message of the story and the growth of the characters, which ultimately leaves a rather unsatisfying taste.
Luckily the cast is superb, Dano does a great job with Calvin who is, as the film continues, an ever darkening presence, the most thrilling scenes are when the previously sweet concept shifts into macabre, almost horror, territory, and Dano's compulsion, guilt and madness are all brilliantly portrayed. Kazan is appealing, managing to successfully subvert the burgeoning 'indie pixie' stereotype, both reflecting Calvin's perception of his dream girl and the flaws and neuroses he would undoubtedly give to her and, later, project onto her.
Meanwhile Chris Messina is great comic relief as Calvin's brother, his reaction upon meeting Ruby makes the concept seem almost believable. Whilst Steve Coogan, Annette Bening and a joyous Antonio Banderas show up in supporting roles.
It is a watchable film, but it doesn't really burrow under the surface of its characters enough, its emotions are at arm's length, and what could have twisted itself from an off-beat fantasy comedy into an interesting psychological drama winds up wobbling unsteadily on its tight-rope and comes crashing down in a final scene that feels ludicrous, tacked on and Hollywoodized.