REVIEW: Ruby Sparks

3 08 2012

My second review on this site was for a movie I was quite high on three years ago, “(500) Days of Summer,” and remain a big fan of to this day.  Back then, it was the little indie that could, a summer sleeper that provided a smile and welcome relief to canned romantic comedies like “The Ugly Truth,” and a nice reminder of the acting prowess of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel.  Then, it went mainstream, said the slightly bitter pseudo-hipster with a sigh.

Never could I have imagined that Marc Webb’s film could have been so influential.  Beyond just elevating Joseph Gordon-Levitt into major leading man status and turning Zooey Deschanel into the modern ideal of the “manic pixie dream girl,” the film made quirky a cool and acceptable facet for the genre.  “Ruby Sparks,” the sophomore film from the people that gave us the middling “Little Miss Sunshine,” attempts to dovetail the success of “(500) Days of Summer” by virtually replicating its emotional ride.

To be fair, “Ruby Sparks,” written by its star Zoe Kazan, is probably quite a bit smarter than its rom-com relative.  However, the film’s charms are far too easy to resist, namely because Kazan is a poor man’s Zooey Deschanel and Paul Dano is just a poor excuse for an actor in general.  They can sell the film on an intellectual level, but neither is particularly good at making us care.  Had it been Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel in the highly-strung emotional climax, I’m convinced I would have been riveted and moved.  Instead, I just sat there pursing my lips like Miranda Priestly.

Kazan’s modern meta interpretation of “Pygmalion,” ingenious as it can be at moments, winds up feeling rather familiar.  The whole “imaginary girl” story seems done to death, even though she might not have been controlled by the typewriter of mentally down-and-out novelist Calvin Weir-Fields (Dano), acclaimed for his work at a young age and never able to replicate its success.  As a therapy exercise, he writes Ruby (Kazan) who quickly jumps off the page – quite literally!  Eventually, who’s inspiring who becomes quite fuzzy.  Although by the end, I just accepted the story for a metaphor and didn’t feel like bothering with trying to sort out the possibilities.

Though I felt at arms length for most of the film, thankfully “Ruby Sparks” has some other tricks up its sleeve to help make up the charm deficit, namely a fantastic supporting cast.  Steve Coogan, an uproarious under-noticed comedian, delights in a pitch-perfect parody of the literati as Calvin’s pretentious colleague.  Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas are hilarious as Calvin’s organic, granola parents; though they have but a few scenes, they might have been the funniest part of the movie.

The secret weapon, though, is Chris Messina as Calvin’s disbelieving brother.  Well-written by Kazan as the film’s moral compass as well as the ham who tests the possibilities of the film’s logic, he absolutely steals the show.  It makes me wonder why it is Dano and not Messina that gets to headline movies like these.  B-

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5 responses

3 08 2012
r361n4

Interestingly enough this is actually the most negative review I’ve seen for this movie so far. So far what I’ve heard is that it’s fairly harmless but overall pleasant, but I’ll just have to go see for myself when this finally gets to Seattle.

I didn’t really see the similarities to 500 Days of Summer in the trailer but I can see where that might’ve come in. Just curious, how do you think this stacks up to Little Miss sunshine?

3 08 2012
Marshall

It is harmless. But not overall pleasant. Kind of moody to the point where both characters pissed me off to the point where I stopped caring about them.

The “(500) Days of Summer” similarities are in the quirkiness of the lead female, the semi-glorification of the Starbucks/Arcade Fire indie scene (by that I mean the scene that sees themselves as far more hipster than they actually are), and the attempts to capture the highest highs and the lowest lows of relationship drama.

I’m not really a fan of “Little Miss Sunshine.” I know overrated is a response to audience reaction, not the film itself, but that’s how I feel about it – undeserving of all the praise it received. It’s just average, and that’s the way I feel about “Ruby Sparks.” Pleasant in fleeting moments, but overall just another comedy…

4 08 2012
Sam Fragoso

I made similar comparisons with 500 Days of Summer and Little Miss Sunshine. To answer your question, because Dano plays lonely struggling writer better than Messina could. Dano is great at playing the type of character who would actually fall for a women he manifested, Messina is too pragmatic.

Ruby Sparks did a lot for me, which is surprising my discontentment with contemporary romances.

Glad to be back here.

4 08 2012
Marshall

I meant landing lead roles in general, not this specific role. No way I would want Chris Messina playing this role. I really meant that Paul Dano has no business in acting because he’s a total hack.

21 03 2013
Ruby Sparks Review: The Dangers of Mindcest | Rorschach Reviews

[…] Marshall and the Movies: B- […]

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