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.