Because I am a litblogger not a film blogger, I don’t review all the movies I see. When I do review a movie it is usually an Australian one. However, because of a certain synchronicity and because of its subject matter, I can’t resist writing a little about Ruby Sparks.
The synchronicity comes from Anita Heiss‘ statement at last week’s Canberra Readers’ Festival that the good thing about writing fiction is that “you can create the world you want to live in”. She meant this positively, because she is passionate about creating a world in which indigenous Australians are respected for their culture, for their similarity to non-indigenous Australians and for their diversity. In other words, she wants them to be recognised and valued as equal human beings, which should not be too much to ask. But, what if the world you want is not the world you need?
Ruby Sparks is a a delightful but also clever and thoughtful movie about a young man with writer’s block. Calvin, the writer, had a New York Times bestseller with his first book when he was 19 years old, and was hailed as a genius, but ten years later, as the movie begins, he has not produced anything more beyond some short works. This, however, is not his only problem. He is in therapy – not only because of his writer’s block but because his life is not going well. He lives alone (with his dog Scotty who, in an affront to Calvin’s manliness, pees like a “girl dog”) and has not had a romantic relationship for several years. Enter Ruby – first in what seems to be a dream sequence and then in the park. Who is this Ruby, we wonder? It soon dawns on us that Ruby may not be real, that she may be a figment of his imagination, the product of his pen (or, in this case, his manual typewriter). It starts in fact to feel a little like a Pygmalion story … and, as we move down that path, we are forced to confront how far a writer’s hubris might take him, because gradually Calvin’s sweet neediness starts to take on another look.
And so the movie progresses, teasing us with the “is she or isn’t she real?” question, and forcing us to examine the implications of want versus need . I’m not going to say anything more about the story, though, for fear of spoiling what is a charming but by no means silly movie. I’ll simply say that the movie explores the potential of its plot with humour and warmth, alongside a little darkness – think power and manipulation – which keeps it grounded. It’s gets a little “tricksy” at times, but not incomprehensibly so. The cast – including the well-known (such as Annette Benning, Antonio Banderas and Elliott Gould) and the lesser-known (namely the romantic leads, Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan) – do a convincing job. They, particularly Dano and Kazan are, dare I say it, “real” and engaging.
Then, at the end of course, came the credits – which I do like to read. I was delighted to discover another little twist to get our heads around. The script, you see, was written by Zoe Kazan* who plays Ruby who may (or may not be) the product of Calvin’s pen. What is that about art imitating life? (Or, something imitating something, anyhow – my brain is starting to hurt now with the permutations!)
This is not a proper movie review. If it were I’d take the time to talk more about the plot and the role of the other characters; I’d discuss the music (which I loved); and I’d mention the symbolism including the moment when Calivn ditches his typewriter for a laptop. But, I simply wanted to share a few thoughts about it with people who like to read. If you’re a movie-going reader like me, I recommend you give this film a go … and if you do, come back and tell me what you think. Meanwhile, I wonder what Anita Heiss would think …
* Zoe Kazan has an impressive pedigree. Her grandfather was film director and screenwriter Elia Kazan and her parents are screenwriters.
18 thoughts on “Ruby Sparks (Movie)”
Oh this sounds like a delightful movie, quirky and not run-of-the-mill. My movies to watch list isn’t very long, but this one is definitely going on it!
It is delightful, Stefanie, with a hint of darkness to take away the fluff.
I was wondering whether Zoe Kazan and Elia Kazan were related. Makes me think of East of Eden and On the Waterfront. Brilliant films.
Well spotted Catherine … yes, she has a great pedigree doesn’t she. Elia Kazan is not just any filmmaker is he? Apparently her mother wrote the script for the Benjamin Button movie – and that was an interesting one to watch too.
And oh, Stefanie and Catherine, I went to bed last night with this movie on my brain and woke up wanting to tweak my review which I have … I should learn not to publish my posts until I’ve let them rest for a few hours. Do you find that?
I saw Ruby Sparks last week and really enjoyed it. Playful, dark and funny in equal measures. As for Zoe Kazan – what a talent! John
Oh yes, John, she is isn’t she. I look forward to seeing more from her. “Playful, dark and funny” is a perfect description.
Love your comments. Now I really want to see this movie! It came and went a while back, but I hope it will show up again.
Oh thanks Carolyn … now I can’t write about it in this week’s letter to you can I? But, you would enjoy it I’m sure.
Glad you enjoyed the film. I need to see it again after reading your post. Your enthusiasm is contagious. 😉
Oh didn’t you like it Arti. I checked your blog as I always do after I review a movie and didn’t see a review.
You are indeed observant, WG! Amazing. Yes, you’re partially right. Let’s just say it hasn’t won me over. I didn’t know anything about the film when I went in. So at the beginning, I really liked the idea, but as it continued, I felt it could have been explored and developed better. It became monotonous and the climax a bit contrived. However, it could just be me… and my personal taste. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed it. I’d like to see more of Paul Dano though, really liked his role in Little Miss Sunshine. And oh, for a theme similar to Ruby Sparks, a film I like a lot is Stranger Than Fiction with Emma Thompson and Will Ferrell.
Thanks for getting back Arti … there’s some similarities with Lars and the Real Girl in this I think. I missed Stranger than Fiction when it came out. I was keen to see it but now you’ve reminded me that I should chase it up. I guess I didn’t find this one monotonous partly because I loved watching Zoe and Paul. Their faces were wonderful. There are a lot of angles to tease out in it … and I could see some not liking it for some of these angles. (I did enjoy Little Miss Sunshine too.)
Yes, you’ve reminded me… I was trying to think movies with similar idea. I enjoyed Lars and the Real Girl much more. And Stranger than Fiction is a deeper and more thought-provoking film than Ruby Sparks. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. If you’re interested, here’s my review dating back to 2007. 😉 And… spoiler alert.
Can someone please tell me of ruby is real or not! It’s doing my head in!
Thanks for commenting Darci … I think this is something for each viewer to decide and I don’t really want to spoil the ending here for others by explaining how I see it!
Just saw the movie and loved loved loved it. Great commentary Sue. I’m a bit confused about the needs and wants analysis. By “needs” do you mean that Calvin needs to let Ruby be her own person though he “wants” to stay in control? Assuming she was a figment of his imagination (at least in the beginning), then this could have been a sort of self-help book of working out the needs and wants before he could move onto the real deal? Aside from all of that, I loved watching Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan and wanted the movie to go on and on…
Oh I’m so glad you loved it too, Caroyn … yes, I meant that he needs to learn to be with a “real” woman who has her own life. I think it could be seen as quite dark if you go down the track of “men” wanting the “ideal” woman, ie one who’s there at his beck and call. But, I think, as I recollect, that the film managed to pull back from going too far down that path. Yes, I think it could be seen as him learning about the ideal versus the real. I’d love to have seen it go on and on too … !