Cut Ruby A Break

Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris‘s Ruby Sparks (Fox Searchlight, 7.25) is, at heart, a film about the impulse to try and change or control a girlfriend or boyfriend. The third-act lesson is that we all need to be better people, but a girlfriend or boyfriend has to either accept who and what their partner is…or not. But nobody is soft clay, and we need to respect each other’s integrity (unless, of course, he or she happens to be deranged or a druggie).

The screenplay, written by Zoe Kazan, is about a blocked novelist (Paul Dano) dreaming up an imaginary girlfriend (Kazan) named Ruby Sparks. After getting over the shock of her manifestation and then falling in love with her, Dano gradually realizes that if there’s anything about Ruby he doesn’t especially care for, all he has to do is go to his manual typewriter and type that she no longer has this trait or tendency, and/or that she has a new trait or tendency…simple. This leads to trouble, trauma and loss, of course. Even imaginary girlfriends have to be allowed to find their own way.

The interesting wrinkle is that Ruby/Zoe isn’t just a figment of Paul’s imagination. She’s absolutely, biologically real, and can be seen and heard and felt and smelled by anyone and everyone else — i.e., Paul’s brother (Chris Messina) and mother (Annette Bening) and the mother’s boyfriend (Antonio Banderas), etc. How has this happened? Kazan’s screenplay offers no answers or clues, which is a way of saying to the audience “forget the particulars and concentrate on what the story is about.”

But a really good screenplay always addresses the mundane and the profound stuff simultaneously. A really good screenwriter always deals with the people in the audience who insist on some kind of plausibility, and tries to make the movie work for them on some level. Why, then, did I totally buy everything that I saw in Being John Malkovich? Hard to answer that. Bit I know it’s bothersome that Ruby’s rules of existence are never explored or even questioned.

And that goes double for the ending when…forget it, spoiler, too soon, later.

  • Luke Y. Thompson

    As you know, I agree.

    the most memorable thing about this movie for me is that damn “Silli-marink, a dinky dink” song she makes up. Will not leave my head.

  • Nick XX

    Looks utterly, absolutely insufferable.

  • Ghost of Kazan

    Once again, I’m fascinated by the fact that the production fulfills this premise in reverse. Zoe wrote Calvin (Paul’s character) into existence and now gets to play with him.

    Sorry if this one has already been taken:

    DZ says: so it’s basically Stranger Than Fiction meets Weird Science?

  • Zach

    I’ve had enough of Paul Dano. I’ve enjoyed him in a lot of films, but – much like Michael Cera – his charm has plateaued. The way he breathes his sentences together, always looks on the verge of crying, and constantly wears that humble/helpless expression… it’s time for him to either take on a completely radical role, or throw in the towel.

    That said, this doesn’t look awful.

  • Sperky

    This is a scene by scene rip off of A WORLD OF HIS OWN- by Richard Matheson, The Twilight Zone. 1960

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MVHfJ3Kb61A

  • Jesse Crall

    I like Dano quite a bit; he held his own nicely against a revitalized De Niro in Being Flynn. Gotta big problem with Chris Messina, though. No charisma. If he and Duplass jump to the A-list something’s really wrong.

  • roland1824

    I’m really hoping that tossing out the detail that she’s real-real with no eventual scientific/cosmic explanation/resolution of her existence provided does not turn out to be a spoiler. Or maybe not a spoiler per se, but definitely a bit of key information that can’t help but inform a first time viewing.

  • Cadavra

    Why does there have to be an explanation? Why can’t we just accept it? She’s real. Moving on…

    And of course, this story goes all the way back to Galatea, to Pygmalion, to ONE TOUCH OF VENUS, to those Carol Burnett sketches where she types and the cast members act out what she writes. It’s not the set-up that’s important, it’s the execution. I’m a huge fan of Kazan, and she does herself and her b.f. proud, especially as their characters aren’t all that lovable.

  • Storm Serge

    @Crall: Yes! I’m convinced he’s a vampire of some sort.

  • The Thing

    So, let me get this straight. You hate when geeks want to get the exact details from the comics in their movies to make them semi-realistic, but you can’t sit back and accept that this girl just comes alive, a la that one myth I can’t recall off the top of my head?

  • bobbyperu

    No, Jeff. No. By your logic, everything and everyone and every relationship and every belief in our lives must be totally, unequivocally explained away. It is possible in a very new-agey sense that we manifest what we desire in life, that the energy we put out returns inkind, etc. It’s so refreshing when Dano tells therapist Gould near the end of the picture that he has stopped searching for a rational explanation because it doesn’t matter — life doesn’t always work like that.

    Don’t knock Kazan’s terrific first screenplay, which is about all of the things you mention and more, because it doesn’t dumb itself down and explain shit away for those obtuse audience members you think exist. The screening audience I saw it with went hook, line and sinker for this thing — a movie with a fantastical premise and no big stars, but works on the charm of its very engaging story.

    This film is original in every way. The “big” scene near the end has NEVER been seen before.

    Please, please give credit where due.

  • bobbyperu

    Oh and the “ending” you speak about is one that believes in true love and second chances. Pretty special stuff in my book especially in a garbage movie landscape where 99% of everything is about nothing.

  • pchu

    Not having an explanation did not bother me at all with Ruby Sparks. It didn’t bother me in Stranger Than Fiction nor Being John Malkovich.

    The third act is pretty darn good. I would have liked the movie more if Dano isn’t in it.

  • Kakihara

    I’m guessing Kazan only got the writing gig, ‘cus of her dad.

  • Kakihara

    Er, her grandfather.

  • DiscoNap

    CUZ THAT’S HOW IT WORKS

  • Ghost of Kazan

    “I’m guessing Kazan only got the writing gig, ‘cus of her dad….Er, her grandfather.”

    True. If not for him she wouldn’t even exist.

  • Kakihara

    Disconap: Yeah, but something about her being groomed into a star, when she’s just an upstart clinging onto a famous family name, bugs the hell outta me.

  • EricGilde

    DZ: Zoe has been writing for quite a long time, actually, and has had several plays produced by pretty big theatres.

    Now, I’m sure that her pedigree helped get people to read those scripts that otherwise wouldn’t have, but at the end of the day it’s still her work that’s out there.

  • The Thing

    I’m with Eric on this one; while I don’t like it when the children of a star uses their name to get jobs, Zoe has clearly proven that she’s talented and deserves the work she gets.

    Also, I enjoyed Ghost of Kazan’s response a bit too much.

  • LauraReeling

    Felt like the writing exercise it kicked itself off with, but damn if she didn’t write herself an actor’s showcase.

  • LauraReeling

    Oh, and it was based on the Pygmalion myth which I do not believe gives any explanation as to why his statue comes to life…except that he fell in love with it just like Dano does with his creation.

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    Looks utterly, absolutely insufferable.

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    Valerie Faris… Please don’t cry….

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    I tend to get diverted a really often like this.
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    I dont think i will ever want to watch this film. There is something in the whole idea of it that drives me away. This is a pitty as i was waiting for something like this to come out.

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    Looks utterly, absolutely insufferable.

  • Jack Papas

    What first seems to be a simple one-joke romantic comedy turns out to be so much more. Search. This is in fact a deeply honest and sad story about the selfish (but real) need that some people have of controlling others to feel loved and make an ideal relationship work.

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    [B]arely distinguishable from other similar tales of young men who need a schooling in the realities of not being a selfish jerk, with one glaring exception. Custom Search. This one is all about teaching Calvin that — spoiler! — women are people.

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    Taking what could have been a gimmick of a premise, Ruby Sparks follows it all the way down the rabbit hole and finds something beautiful, poignant and confronting. Search Engine. Full review later.

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  • rebeccacascarret

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