Ruby Sparks | Movie review
Zoe Kazan critiques Manic Pixie Dream Girls—by playing one.
In Ruby Sparks, the second feature from the directors of Little Miss Sunshine, doll-faced ingenue Zoe Kazan plays an indie goddess so loopy-sexy-perfect she can’t be real—and as it turns out, she isn’t. The film’s magical-realist twist is that boy doesn’t meet girl, he invents her. Kazan’s angelic waif—a redheaded painter who loves zombie movies and dresses like a New Wave starlet—is born on a blank page. She’s the writing exercise of wunderkind novelist Calvin (Paul Dano, the actress’s actual beau), who concocts this idealized portrait of womanhood as a cure for his creative block. Fiction becomes reality when Ruby—as Calvin’s named her—materializes in his apartment. And disbelief becomes euphoria as the author realizes she only has eyes for him.
On paper, Ruby Sparks sounds like a sub–Charlie Kaufman stunt, à la the too-clever-by-half Stranger than Fiction. In reality, it’s a much darker creation, at least for a while. Kazan penned the screenplay; what she’s after is a shrewd critique of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl fantasy—or, rather, the control-freak pathology behind it. As Ruby begins to evolve beyond the personality parameters she’s been assigned, Calvin realizes he can alter her behavior with the simple strike of a key on his typewriter. Dano, in his best performance since There Will Be Blood, offers a bravely unflattering depiction of beta-male possessiveness. You end up wishing the film didn’t let his wordsmith off the hook; what appears at first to be a feminist manifesto instead becomes just another seriocomic portrait of shy-guy growing pains. (500) Days of Ruby might have been a more fitting title.