There’s some charm left in the ‘manic pixie dream girl’ stereotype, writes Susan O’Sullivan.
This feature presentation has been brought to us by the directors of the stunning Little Miss Sunshine, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. While Ruby Sparks is not quite as invigorating as their 2006 classic, it is anchored by the same humour and intensity found at the heart of their debut. Think of it as food for the soul. Ruby Sparks herself, Zoe Kazan, wrote the film and her real-life boyfriend Paul Dano plays her neurotic creator, Calvin. It’s a Hollywood love-in, you guys, with appearances by Antonio Banderas, Annette Bening, and Steve Coogan to help seal the deal.
Calvin is a former precocious-teen-author. At age 19, he had one glorious moment: released a critically acclaimed novel and garnered a legion of cultish fans. In the decade since, success has been followed by the deafening silence of writer’s block. He is living in a debilitating rut, where not even his cute dog can cheer him up. His therapist poses him a writing challenge in an attempt to help him out of this writing funk. Thus comes the unusual arrival of Ruby Sparks.
Calvin first dreams of Ruby, an ethereal hipster goddess he meets in a park who inspires the conscience Calvin to write again. She embodies that redundant “manic pixie dream girl” that has been fetishised so often in cinema of late (see Almost Famous, Garden State, (500) Days of Summer, or any Zooey Deschanel film for that matter). The Ruby on page eventually manifests in life. All, of course, is not as rosy as it seems.
The ensuing honeymoon period is euphoric, balmy, and romantic, filled with pretty montages, one of which is accompanied by Plastic Bertrand’s “Ça Plane Pour Moi,” because a little French punk-pop is, after all, what enduring love is made of. This portion of events appears as though it has been filtered through an Instagram-style sepia filter, the retro mesh turned up to eleven. It captures all that passion and silliness that idyllic love can be identified with.
The next chapter of the film deconstructs their inexplicable contentment, and with the help of various peripheral characters, launches into an analysis of our two love birds: what is the purpose of their relationship; what is their individual purpose? What are the consequences for the pair when Ruby’s existence is dependent on the whims of Calvin? Ruby and Kazan attempt to shatter the oppressions of the manic pixie dream girl syndrome.
Kazan managed to allow the film to transition fluidly from its genial beginnings as a blissful fantasy romance, where Calvin and his brother bumble about trying to understand the extraordinary power at Calvin’s disposal (control over a woman). It then continues on to descend into a more intriguing second act. The lives of our protagonist and heroine become a little more chaotic and relatable, resisting traditional resolution as their insecurities surface. Calvin’s Frankenstein-inspired experiment spirals out of control when Ruby attempts to define herself outside of the writer’s page.
It is unfair to equate this film to Little Miss Sunshine, for it belongs in a league of its own. Where Sunshine examines family, Ruby Sparks tackles the dynamics of couples, the hierarchy of power with a keen, playful eye. It is a hilarious, quirky little satire on modern love and most definitely worth a trip to the cinema.