By Cora Quigley
The basic premise of ‘Ruby Sparks’ directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, is one that has been explored before in a variety of movies, most notably John Hughes’ ‘Weird Science’ in 1985. The difference with ‘Ruby Sparks’ is that the film does not romanticise such a plot, but presents it in such a way that the viewer is forced to question why this kind of story is so often romanticised and perceived as normal. The story revolves around Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano), an author who wrote a best-selling novel in his teens and has been struggling to produce anything worthwhile ever since. When his psychiatrist suggests he writes him a page of absolutely anything, whether it be good or complete crap, Calvin all of sudden becomes inspired by the girl who has been appearing in his dreams and obsessively writes about her. Here’s the twist; the girl who whom he has christened Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan) becomes real. What follows is an exploration of Calvin’s desires and his struggle to treat her as a real person with her own hopes and dreams.
Calvin’s ideal girl who is culminated in the character of Ruby is the epitome of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope often found in your typical indie flick. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is someone who oftentimes seeks out broken people – people like our protagonist – and makes them feel good about themselves. Nathan Rabin defines this trope as existing “solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is an all-or-nothing-proposition.” Ruby is someone who is quite literally the girl of Calvin’s dreams. She is someone who is pretty and vapid; someone that he can teach the ways of the world to; that is, the world as he perceives it.
The problem with the dream girl that he has written is clear from the start. Dano makes a rookie mistake when it comes to writing fictional characters; Ruby lacks depth and a multi-faceted personality. His brother who reads his first draft is even critical of this, telling him that he hasn’t written a three dimensional person, and that a woman whose problems make her endearing and likeable simply doesn’t exist. He listens not to this sound advice. Calvin doesn’t want a real person; he wants someone who will undermine her own value in order to provide him with happiness. This brings us to the main theme that the film revolves around, which is the fantasy of male control. Ruby Sparks as a character is quite literally a product of the male gaze. Her existence and entire personality and outlook depend on the whims of Calvin. The film illustrates how the manifestation of such a desire for control can be truly frightening. This is when it turns from a fluffy romantic comedy to a film much darker than the viewer is initially led to believe. Suddenly it is clear that such a premise is actually quite creepy. It causes the viewer to wonder why this so called male fantasy that has been presented in various other guises before are oftentimes depicted and consumed as being normal.
Zoe Kazan does a fantastic job in both her portrayal of Ruby and in writing the screenplay for the film. Paul Dano is perfect at embodying a lead that is both endearing and hateful in equal measure. One flaw in the film could be its final scene. It could be said that it lets down the rest of the film somewhat, or even that it is a cop out, but it all depends on individual interpretation. ‘Ruby Sparks’ is far more thought provoking than your typical romantic comedy, so I am more inclined to forgive it for its flaws. It serves as a worthy follow up to 2006’s ‘Little Miss Sunshine’.