Fox Searchlight Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya by Harvey Karten
Director: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Screenwriter: Zoe Kazan
Cast: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Elliott Gould, Chris Messina, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas
Screened at: Fox, NYC, 7/23/12
Opens: July 25, 2012
If you could turn your girlfriend or wife into anything you want—have her do what you want when you want, even visit your mother every weekend and like it—would you go for it? Sounds great, but is it? See “Ruby Sparks” and you’ll change your mind. The movie, written and performed by Zoe Kazan, who is Paul Dano’s real-life girlfriend, is imaginative, though not wholly original. The idea of creating a living being out of either nothing or some non-human material is reminiscent of the Greek legend of Pygmalion and Galatea, wherein Pygmalion, a sculptor, makes an offering at the altar of Venus, who grants his wish. He kisses her and her lips are warm. He touches her breast and she comes to life. The legend inspired the musical “My Fair Lady,” though Professor Higgins is simply molder a lower-class woman into the haute societé.
“Ruby Sparks” seems inspired in turn by Episode 36 of a 1960 episode of “The Twilight Zone,” featuring Keenan Wynn as Gregory, who brings Mary Roche’s character Mary to life by simply using his dictation machine to control reality.
Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’s movie uses a most clever tagline, “She out of his mind,” perfectly describing how a Calvin (Paul Dano), a writer, overcomes a ten-years’ block by pecking out a Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan) whom he had met in two dreams, dreams that resulted in his fervently knocking out of a new novel. When she appears in his kitchen, cooking eggs, he is astonished at first, nor can his brother, Harry (Chris Messina), believe him until he sees her as well. Recognizing the benefits of this Stepford wife situation, if you will, Harry, who regularly counsels his brother to have more sex, i.e. to have some sex, encourages Calvin to manipulate her to his fancy. When Calvin types “Speak fluent French,” she can parle comme un natif. When he types “Become deliriously happy,” she can’t stop bouncing on his bed. To keep the picture out of a NC-17 rating, we in the audience are not privileged to see what else he may have written, but we have the impression that Calvin has become a happy man.
Not so fast! Can you imagine a situation in which you’d prefer to have a woman as a free agent, one who, though loving and loyal to you is not manipulated and controlled by you? If not, there’s another reason to see “Ruby Sparks.”
The ensemble acting is so good that we in the audience do not even wonder how Calvin is able to perform his magic. We just look at what’s going on as though this magic realism were an everyday occurrence in every relationship, and we are charmed by a performance from Annette Bening as Cal’s hippie-ish mother Gertrude (reminiscent of Jane Fonda’s performance as Grace in Bruce Beresford’s “Peace, Love & Misunderstanding”). We can see how a person like this could attract a handsome Spanish man, Mort (Antonio Banderas). In a welcome role as psychoanalyst Dr. Rosenthal, Elliott Gould is the kind of shrink we all should get if we need that kind of help, while Steve Coogan takes the role of Langdon Tharp, a rich party-giver, who without a touch of magic manipulates Ruby into joining him in the pool in her underwear.
In a twist that some may not get, Zoe Kazan in real life is actually manipulating her real-life boyfriend Paul Dano by writing his role, one which he must follow to the letter. This movie features Calvin’s adorable dog, Scotty (Oscar), whose job is to be a catalyst for the writer to meet women—realistically.
Rated R. 104 minutes © 2012 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+