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Ruby Sparks - DVD Review

Ruby Sparks

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

SIX years after charming us with their indie hit Little Miss Sunshine, husband-and-wife directing team Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris make an overdue return with the equally memorable Ruby Sparks.

Written by one of the film’s stars, Zoe Kazan, this is a smart blend of romance and drama that both amuses and poses some thought-provoking questions. What’s more, it doesn’t undermine the intelligence of its audience, avoiding the need for over-explanation or contrived sentiment.

The central conceit is a doozy too. Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) is a Los Angeles-based novelist suffering from acute writers’ block and a complete failure with women. When his psychiatrist (Elliott Gould) urges him to start writing about the mysterious woman who keeps appearing in his dreams, Calvin reluctantly takes his advice.

Before long, however, Ruby (the woman in his dream) comes to life. Calvin can’t explain it but after concluding that he isn’t going mad decides to start embracing this magical change of fortune, especially as Ruby (Kazan) is everything he dreamt possible and responds to any changes he decides to make in his written portrayal of her.

Just as life couldn’t get any better, though, Calvin’s conscience begins to get in the way and he starts to question the control he has over Ruby, particularly once certain ‘creative’ decisions begin to have real life repercussions.

Although billed as a quirky romantic comedy-drama, Kazan’s screenplay deserves credit for having the bravery to take it into some unexpected – but emotionally realistic – places.

Hence, while the first half is frothy and romantic, the second charts some darker territory and succeeds in engaging the intellect as well as the heart. She doesn’t fluff the ending, either, delivering something that feels wholly appropriate as well as suitably heart-warming.

Dayton and Faris, meanwhile, capably balance the demands of the screenplay by ensuring that the film’s changes of tone are both well timed and natural, while ensuring that his talented ensemble cast all have a chance to shine.

Dano and Kazan are great together (as you might expect from a real-life couple), with Kazan particularly endearing as the effervescent Ruby. But Dano goes through his range of emotions in convincing fashion, tapping into the comedy of the situation when required, but also lending it the necessary dramatic depth when things get heavier.

And there’s bright support from Chris Messina, as his initially sceptical brother, Antonio Banderas and Annette Bening, as his parents, and Elliott Gould, as his shrink.

If you’ve previously liked films such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Stranger Than Fiction, then Ruby Sparks is tailor-made for you. It’s a genuinely bright spark – charming, witty, darker than expected but a movie to brighten your cinema-going existence.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 104mins
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: February 11, 2013