‘Objectively she’s not real, but I love her’

Although there are good examples of the genre, the romantic-comedy can often be a dull prospect. But add a touch of fantasy, combine it with excellent scripting and acting, and maybe it can work…

Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) is a successful author, so much that his public speaking events, organised by his self-publicising agent Langdon Tharp (Steve Coogan in quite possibly his most enjoyable role since 24 Hour Party People [2002]), are attended by enthusiastic and sizable audiences. Calvin’s success has naturally led to great anticipation for his next work but he has a severe case of writer’s block, which has lasted a number of years, something he needs to discuss in embarrassing psychological detail with his analyst Dr. Rosenthal (a brilliantly cast Elliott Gould). But positive steps forward emerge when Calvin begins to have dreams about a fascinating, mysterious girl, Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan), with whom he falls deeply in love, even if she is clearly a fantasy. The good doctor suggests that he should write about her and matters take a life-changing turn when this ideal girl starts living with him in his apartment. They soon become boyfriend and girlfriend with all the joy and conflict that this can involve, but is Ruby real or an illusion? And what can Calvin possibly do about the one person he feels is real but is not sure is real? Even if he does love her…

So, a creative male artist imagines a desirable female partner and in a heterosexual male fantasy she reveals herself as actuality. Hmmm. So far, so Weird Science (1985), but combine this ‘man creates hot date’ premise with the bizarrely large number of stories that concentrate on the world of an author coming to terms with the actuality of their creation and you have the potential for a film that is very bad indeed. Fortunately Ruby Sparks manages to cast aside all these concerns and the final result is a well-made romantic drama fantasy that is just plain enjoyable. The way that the relationship develops between Ruby and Calvin appears normal to her even if her existence is as debateable for the viewer as it is for Calvin much of the time. But, rather like him, we are enjoying the enchantment of the romance as much as the actuality (or not) of it! When Calvin realises that any elements of the relationship or her character that are not to his liking, he can simply adjust his text; testing this theory by writing Ruby as a fluent French speaker. This plot device has the potential for the film to take a path that could easily become unpleasant but, although it does push things to the limit at the denouement, thankfully the film retains its positive tone and remains internally consistent.

The author of the story and screenplay is Zoe Kazan, who plays the titular Ruby (and is also Paul Dano’s girlfriend in ‘real life’). Kazan ‘was interested in the theme of control in relationships and the way we bring in ideas of who the person we love should be. How do you love the person you’re with completely without saying, ‘I don’t want this part or that part?” Also of note is that the film was directed by (married) directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, whose only other feature film Little Miss Sunshine (2006), although very different, shares a love of strong characterisation and indie-cinema humour.

A well written, well-acted and well-constructed film that is genuinely delightful, Ruby Sparks is ideal viewing for those romantics out there who enjoy offbeat character-driven cinema.