A damn good shaggy dog story.
It's a quirky oddball indy comedy time featuring a damaged loser - must be time to bring out Paul Dano. In Ruby Sparks, Dano plays the role of Calvin Weir-Fields, an acclaimed author of a startling debut novel that he's been unable to follow up on, years later. Plagued with insecurities from this, the death of his father and break-up of his relationship, he's a rather feeble mess.
On orders from his therapist, Calvin's tasked with an exercise to write down a short description of an attractive young woman who appeared in a dream. This seems to open a floodgate, and an entire character history of Ruby Sparks, in this case rather literally Calvin's dream woman issues forth from his typewriter. Everyone is pleased.
Calvin is rather less pleased when Ruby (Zoe Kazan, also the writer of this film) appears in his apartment. Calvin rather understandably thinks he's going insane, but it turns out that everyone including his rather more balanced brother Harry (Chris Messina) can see Ruby as well, and a little experimentation proves that adding to Calvin's document adds to Ruby's character and personality. Calvin swears Harry to secrecy and locks Ruby's character document away, never to change it again, and live happily ever after with Ruby.
This would make for a dull film, I suppose, so it throws a few spanners into the works when the reality of relationships intrudes on the fantasy, in ways that aren't a million miles away from the usual foibles that you'd find in a rom-com, although there's always an additional temptation in this set up to, well, write your way out of any problem that comes along.
As it happens, between the temptation of the above and the obvious weirdness of living with a manifested figment of your imagination puts enough stress on the relationship to move things into a fairly dark place, and if I've one overarching problem with the film it's that it can't quite sustain the tonal shifts it attempts. The moves from light to dark and eventually back again are just a little too far outwith the established characterisation to flow naturally, and it can feel a little forced in order to move on the plot, or perhaps an attempt at searching for a greater theme that's never made fully apparent.
That, however, is damn near the only negative I can level against the film. Dano and Kazan make the most of Kazan's script, bouncing off each other well with some great lines and, especially early on, great reaction shots. The supporting cast is fabulous, featuring the likes of Elliot Gould, Steve Coogan, Antonio Bandera and Annette Benning, all of whom add to the texture of the piece.
Direction from Little Miss Sunshine helmers Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris is assured and well paced, and it feels like it shares a lot of the same D.N.A. as their last film. Which is certainly no bad thing, given how enjoyable I find Little Miss Sunshine.
It is, I suppose, a film slanted a little too far towards the kooky end of the spectrum to achieve mass market acceptance, but if your taste in light-hearted comedy veers off towards the eclectic you'll find there's a great deal to like in Ruby Sparks.
Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks)
Chris Messina (Harry)