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Ruby Sparks

Lonely writer dreams up his dream woman

Jul. 30, 2012
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A male artist who imagines an ideal woman and brings her to life? It's an idea as old as Greece. This archetypal fantasy of dominance and godlike power is at the heart of Ruby Sparks, a film that begins in a flurry of feather-light notes before building toward a dark crescendo. The protagonist is a boy genius slumping toward 30, Calvin (Paul Dano), once the literary spokesman of his generation, now stymied by the blank white page in his manual typewriter. But writer's block isn't Calvin's only problem. Women only want him because they're in love with the novel he wrote while still in his teens, and in any event, he's such a wussy sad sack, with such poor self-image, that sustaining relations might be harder than writing the next great American novel.

One morning, Calvin awakens in his sterile, white, modernist house in the Los Angeles foothills with a dream image of a woman sticking to memory. Inspired at last, he begins to cover the blank page in his typewriter with a character sketch. Ruby, as he names her, is 26 and cute, but not intimidating in her beauty. She's from Ohio, always roots for the underdog, paints pictures, doesn't drive or own a computer and is a bit scattered. Her favorite men are Humphrey Bogart and John Lennon—and she cried when she found out they were already dead.

Although Ruby begins as nothing but an interesting character for the novel his agent is pressuring him to write, Calvin is dismayed to learn how thin the border is between fiction and reality. He's puzzled when women's undergarments begin turning up around his house. Soon enough, their owner appears in the form of his creation, Ruby (Zoe Kazan), strolling around the place as if she's real. Calvin shudders at this hallucinatory visitor until it becomes clear that other people see her, too. Ruby is real, fashioned from Calvin's imagination and brought to life as he puts words to paper.

Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine), along with star and screenwriter Kazan, shift Ruby Sparks from a school-of-Woody-Allen comedy about a neurotically fragile writer, in therapy and with women problems, into a metaphysical drama. While Calvin is the composer of Ruby's character, he can't write in her every inflection, can he? And what happens when Ruby develops volition and acts contrary to his presumptions? Can he recompose her or intervene in the smaller turns of her life? Should he? The question comes down to this: Where does free will meet destiny in Calvin's creation, not to say in the cosmos at large?

In addition to a smart screenplay and fine acting from the stars, Ruby Sparks benefits from one of the strongest supporting casts this year, with Annette Bening as Calvin's late-life hippie mom, Antonio Banderas as her free-spirited second husband, Elliott Gould as Calvin's patiently firm therapist and Steve Coogan in a brilliant cameo as a British expatriate writer.n

Opens Aug. 3 at the Oriental Theatre.


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