Saturday, 27 October 2012
As an aspiring writer myself, should I have a soft spot for films about writers? Barton Fink is one of my favourite Coen comedies* and As Good as it Gets is charmingly funny, if not much about writing. I can’t think of that many good ones, actually.
New rom-com Ruby Sparks is explicitly about writing. The concept: Paul Dano is Calvin Weir-Fields, a writer, who one day writes about a girl he sees in his dreams, only to have her come to life as the eponymous Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan). Not much time is given to explaining this miracle, and the film’s all the better for it – it’s a rom-com, who needs scientific explanations? Just don’t let some particular Doctor Who fans watch it...
Rather, the film asks - how does Calvin cope with having 'written' his own girlfriend, and, consequently and more interestingly, how does the reality of Ruby compare to his writing, and how does he deal with the moral dilemma of his power to change things by ‘rewriting’ her?
These questions are all explored in Zoe Kazan’s competent and affecting script. It’s interesting that Kazan wrote and starred in the film – there aren’t many good writer-actors out there, and Kazan is certainly shaping up as one of them. Kazan and Dano lift the characters out of the screen and pull the film together with performances that are engaging without ever becoming, as some may worry, overly saccharine.
In fact, it’s a testament to the script and performances that Calvin remains likable throughout the film, even after the surprisingly dark turn the tale takes towards the end. Which I won’t give away. Ruby Sparks can be read as a fable about the controlling partner, and the metaphor is extended through Calvin’s ability to manipulate Ruby with his typewriter, but Paul Dano manages to pull the sympathy in despite this darker side to the character, and audiences should be smiling by the end of the film.
If there’s one thing I really don’t like about Ruby Sparks, it’s an unusual sequence around the middle of the film, in which Calvin and Ruby visit Calvin’s mother and step-father. There’d been a lovely comment earlier on about how perfect, ‘quirky’ girls don’t exist outside of stories – pointing a knowing finger at that contemporary rom-com category which this effectively falls into. Thus when Calvin creates such a girl it’s so unrealistic that it must be a miracle. But his family, as it turns out, are so over-the-top off-the-rails quirky so as to completely null and void this point that the film had previously been making. With a house patched together from a range of spiritual buildings, they’re like something pulled from an early draft of Meet the Fockers before it was asked to be heavily toned down. There’s absolutely no reason for this; indeed, the family’s very presence is superficial, as they don’t have much effect on Calvin or Ruby and hardly appear again in the film.
So, apart from that unusually rubbish sequence, I liked Ruby Sparks. It’s an intelligent but not study of writing and of relationships and of the similarities between them, but not pretentiously so - it knows it's a rom-com and is an engagingly sleek and light-hearted one at that. Zoe Kazan is a name to look out for.
*Interestingly, only now have I noticed the similarities between Barton Fink and The Shining. That’s an essay for another day.
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