Writer and titular star of Ruby Sparks, Zoe Kazan, has some pretty big shoes to fill. She’s the daughter of screenwriters Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord, whilst her grandfather is the legendary writer and director Elia Kazan, most famous for On The Waterfront. That’s quite the heritage, but if this, her debut as a writer, is anything to go by, she’s obviously picked up a thing or two.
Ruby Sparks, directed by husband and wife duo Jonathan Drayton and Valerie Faris of Little Miss Sunshine fame, is the story of Calvin War-Fields (Paul Dano), a young novelist hailed as the next big thing in American literature thanks to his debut novel. However, his follow up is proving a struggle and he doesn’t know where to begin. Calvin starts writing about his perfect girl, called Ruby, and is shocked when the girl he’s invented comes to life and he’s able to control her entire life through his writing.
The film starts sweetly and simply enough. Calvin has everything except someone to love and have love him back. So, when he is able to create his perfect woman, everything plays out almost like an indie romantic comedy. And this girl is real, by the way, not just a figment of his imagination. His whole family can see her, so this is no examination of split-personality disorder or anything like that. So, it’s a relatively happy, quirky film, but in the second half things take a much darker twist, and this is Ruby Sparks’ trump card.
As Ruby starts to live her life, Calvin discovers there are things he doesn’t like about her and decides to change her. Calvin becomes a control freak and doesn’t want Ruby to have a life outside of him and ends up almost completely rewriting her. This is an obvious look at how someone in a relationship may try to control and change someone else and the destructive effects this can have. It’s quite an unexpected turn the film takes but it’s one that gives it much more depth it might otherwise have had.
Something that is bound to be a bone of contention is the film’s ending. It is one that seems simple upon first viewing but the more you think about it, the more different interpretations it can have, many of which are, unfortunately, rather unsatisfying. It’s a shame that a film that feels so original is let down by an ending that, in an attempt to be clever, ultimately feels awkward. Of course, many others may feel differently about this and feel that it works perfectly.
It’s a relatively small cast but performances are great all round, which really helps build a tight and focused film. A sub plot regarding Calvin’s mother and step father feels a little underdeveloped but doesn’t at all hamper enjoyment. Despite some misgivings about the ending, Ruby Sparks is a delightful debut from Kazan and a hopeful sign of great things to come.