Review: “Ruby Sparks”

The road to cinematic hell is paved with smart intentions. Need proof? Watch “Ruby Sparks.”

Sarah Harper

“Ruby Sparks”

Rated R

Opens: Aug. 3 at the Lagoon in Uptown

Starring: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Chris Messina

You’ll sit there for: 104 minutes

For fans of: French pop songs, minimalist movie posters, obvious moral lessons

Reminds us of: “Stranger than Fiction,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Bruce Almighty,” “What Women Want“

 

A real-life woman (Zoe Kazan) wrote a screenplay (“Ruby Sparks”) in which a male writer (Calvin Weir-Fields, played by Kazan’s real-life boyfriend, Paul Dano) writes about the woman he sees in his dreams (played by Zoe Kazan), and she comes to life (somehow) as a beautiful and crazy amalgamation of every Manic Pixie Dream Girl ever.

So “Ruby Sparks” has a smart premise, and it asks the hard questions: Should you desire the person of your dreams? Can you control your significant others? How much? Are the love interests in modern film and fiction realistic?

Kazan turns the concept of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl on its head, showing us that these gleeful, carefree and destructive girls can’t and don’t actually exist, in spite of what male screenwriters continually create.

Unfortunately, the movie falls flat. Giving away too much would ruin any potential movie-goers’ experiences, so we’ll leave it at this: The ending of the film is a heartless and illogical sham that left us with more questions than answers and more frustration than relief. Maybe that was Kazan’s intention. But it probably wasn’t Kazan’s intention to conform to as many cinematic clichés as she did, even outside of the character of Ruby, who we realize was supposed to be a cliché.

At its best moments, “Ruby Sparks” feels like “Little Miss Sunshine,” which was also directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris and soundtracked by Nick Urata of DeVotchKa. All of Weir-Fields’ supporters glimmer: Respites from the superficial gleam of the plot come from Weir-Fields’ real-as-hell ex-girlfriend, his sporty and straight-talking brother and his carefree mom and stepdad, played by Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas.

But the problem lies in the script. It’s conforming and suffocating, buying into all the tropes and taking every easy way out. And don’t we all already know these lessons? Do audiences really need to be taught that you can’t change the person you’re with? The most frustrating part of this movie is the fact that it doesn’t resolve the giant mystery it creates. We’re not satisfied with the idea of the film as a vague metaphor — with no conclusive ending, this film feels about as solid as the fictitious Ruby Sparks herself.