Ruby Sparks is the girl of Calvin's dreams -- literally -- and his Olympia manual typewriter.
Calvin (Paul Dano) was the "boy wonder," author of a best-selling, beloved novel by age 19. He followed that with some short stories and a novella, but he has been suffering from writer's block of late, until he decides to take the perfect girl of his dreams and turn her into a novel in the smart romcom "Ruby Sparks."
As with most good novelists, Calvin invents all sorts of details for Ruby (Zoe Kazan), from her age of 26 to her hometown of Dayton, Ohio, and her readiness for a change. Turns out that's her leap from page to real life; she appears one morning in his kitchen, fixing him some eggs for breakfast and having no idea she is an invention of his imagination.
3 stars = Good
- Starring: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan.
- Rating: R for language including some sexual references, and for some drug use.
Once the writer determines he's not dreaming or having a mental breakdown and that, even more remarkably, other people can see and hear Ruby, he begins to enjoy the ideal relationship.
He's not sure how it happened, but his awestruck brother (Chris Messina) suggests Calvin write something more about Ruby and see if it comes true. It does, although Calvin vows not to play puppeteer to Ruby.
But when Ruby starts to show an independent streak and deepen into more of a person and less of a character, their love affair hits a predictably rocky patch. Calvin, who clearly likes to be in control in every sense of that phrase, has to decide whether he should flex his power (and typing paper) and how.
In addition to the leads, "Ruby Sparks" stars Annette Bening as Calvin's hippie widowed mother, living with her free-wheeling boyfriend, played by a delightful Antonio Banderas, along with Steve Coogan as a literary admirer and competitor of Calvin's, and Elliott Gould as a therapist.
"Ruby Sparks" distinguishes itself for several reasons: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the husband and wife team behind "Little Miss Sunshine," featuring Mr. Dano as the silent son, directed it; Ms. Kazan, a theater actress and playwright, wrote the screenplay; she and Mr. Dano are a couple in real life, which translates into on-screen comfort and chemistry; it gives a modern spin to the Pygmalion myth; and it's all set to a fresh musical mix thanks to composer Nick Urata, front man of the band DeVotchKa, and musical supervisor Dan Wilcox.
The insights of "Ruby Sparks" may not be groundbreaking, but they are presented in a shiny new way with a nod to the old-fashioned and photogenic method of writing on a typewriter. The white pages are reflected in Calvin's glasses, and the sound of the paper being rolled into the carriage portends drama or disappointment, as do the levers of the keys swinging into motion.
"Ruby Sparks" is one of those movies, however, that seems to end and then end and then end once more, searching for satisfaction but leaving unanswered the questions it would generate. Still it's an oasis in the heat of the summer movies.
Opens today at AMC-Loews at the Waterfront.