Film Review: "RUBY SPARKS"
Published: Friday, August 3, 2012
Updated: Friday, August 3, 2012 06:08
Sometimes, what sounds incredible on paper ends up dull, bland, and boring on film. “RUBY SPARKS”, the sophomore effort from directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (“LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE”,) is precisely that type of film. Seemingly a deconstruction of the ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ trope – you know, the one where a youthfully adorable girl who looks like or normally is Zooey Deschanel lifts an artistic sad sack out of his slump – the film instead ends up an embodiment of all the annoying clichés it sets out to dismantle. The fault lies, no doubt, on screenwriter/lead actress Zoe Kazan – though her central idea may be potent, her execution is as pedestrian as the films she satirizes.
Paul Dano brings his soul-sucking energy to the lead role of Calvin; a thinly-veiled J.D. Salinger construct whose stuck in a sophomore slump himself – locked away in his home, clanging out writing no one will ever see, and unable to follow up his “instant classic” first novel (about that Salinger thing: told you so.) When he begins to scribe up a girl from his dreams (Kazan in the title role,) his work comes to life – literally. Ruby starts appearing around his house, then around his friends, to his astonished brother-in-law (a show-stealing Chris Messina,) to his gal pals… you get the picture.
The film flirts with inspired lunacy at times, like when Calvin uses his pen to scramble her brains at will (you love me! You hate me! You speak French!) But eventually it’s all too self-serious to register as satire, and too silly and unfocused to register as proper drama (the ending, spoilers withheld, undoes any subtextual reading you will have put together by then.) And it certainly doesn’t help that none of the other women in the film, most notably Alia Shawkat’s insane lit-groupie, feel any more real than Sparks herself.
In breaking down all these irritating clichés, it becomes entirely irritating itself – we sit through the same lousy flirting montages and the same antiseptic romantic sequences that she’s suppose to be subverting - the fact that its presented as “irony” does nothing to make it entertaining. Just because the filmmakers wink at us through all this sub-Woody Allen bullshit doesn’t mean it isn’t sub-Woody Allen bullshit.