Film Review: “Ruby Sparks”

***OUT OF 4

Directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton (“Little Miss Sunshine”) return once again to the big screen with an urgent and quirky script from Zoe Kazan, who also stars, as the eponymous Ruby Sparks, in this touching and beguiling romantic fantasy.

The story revolves around a young novelist named Calvin (a wonderful Paul Dano) who is a Luddite who still writes on an Olympia portable typewriter.  His first and only novel was a sensation of J.D.Salinger (“Catcher in the Rye”) proportions. When labeled a genius by his agent Calvin retorts “Don’t use that word”, while his psychiatrist (a bearded and stoic Elliott Gould) tries to get him out of his depression by assigning a short writing exercise.

After being inspired by a chance meeting with an attractive woman in a park, Calvin breaks free of his writer’s block and creates the girl of his dreams on paper.  With a mesmerizing and funny flourish that has shades of “Pygmalion”, and “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, Calvin wills her into existence. As the movie’s clever tag-line asserts “She’s out of his mind” and the story takes off as we go for a wild and unpredictable journey. In one of the movie’s best scenes, Calvin and his brother Harry (Chris Messina) collaborate to test Calvin’s power over Ruby and with uncanny precision he gets her to speak fluent French. This theme of puppet and master is repeated in many amusing variations.

A brief sidebar trip to Big Sur to visit his mother (Annette Bening) a radiant earth mother and her artist lover (Antonio Banderas) is written without substance and is one of the film’s flaws. But, Ruby is touching and emotionally engaging and shot with precision by the master DP Matthew Labatique. It is a refreshing movie and a much needed respite from the summer of Hollywood comic book tent- poles.  See it and you will laugh and smile.

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