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'Ruby Sparks' review: She's alive! And easy to adore

MoviesZooey Deschanel500 Days of Summer (movie)Paul DanoAntonio BanderasAnnette Bening

*** (out of four)

Plenty of fictional creations have sprung from imagination to reality in the minds of movie characters. Look at the computer-generated woman in “Weird Science.” Or, last month, the living teddy bear in “Ted.”

Yet few stories about people/animals/robots/whatever magically coming to life bring along the moral complications of Ruby Sparks (played by the film’s writer, Zoe Kazan). She begins as a creation in the mind of Calvin (Paul Dano), an author who’s gone 10 years without a true follow-up to a debut novel that has, to Calvin’s chagrin, caused many to label him a genius. The more Calvin writes about Ruby, a cutie not far from the Manic Pixie Dream Girl mode, the more real she becomes to him, until she becomes real to everyone.

The make-believe character appears in Calvin’s house as his girlfriend, and she’s not just in his mind. Even Calvin’s skeptical brother (Chris Messina), who says, “Quirky, messy women whose problems are endearing are not real,” admits that something magical has occurred. He notes that, for men everywhere, Calvin cannot let this opportunity to go to waste. After all, if Calvin writes that, say, Ruby speaks French, she suddenly speaks French. The possibilities are endless.

Calvin’s too good a guy for that, at first; he’s just happy to finally have a girl who brings him out of a lonely, non-productive funk. Needless to say, the creator/created relationship teems with underlying weirdness, and “Ruby Sparks” (from “Little Miss Sunshine” directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris) acknowledges that Calvin sometimes treats Ruby more like a daughter than a girlfriend. What the movie ignores on its way to a finale that’s part “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and part “(500) Days of Summer” are Calvin’s insecurities and possessiveness. Each trait would be an issue even if he learned that the pursuit of perfection—on paper or in a person—is a losing battle.

Ruby’s supposedly unrealistic level of quirkiness doesn’t quite come back to bite Calvin, which would have been a nice way to reinforce the fantastic imagination of writers—or just single guys conditioned to pursue a contrived Zooey Deschanel clone. The offbeat romanticism also doesn’t reach the level of sweet surprise found in “Safety Not Guaranteed.” “Ruby Sparks,” which features Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas as Calvin’s mom and stepdad, still insightfully trades on people’s need for clarity, both as a creative type and someone looking to collaborate with a partner.

Or you can continue trying to change your significant other and see how that goes.

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com. @mattpais

 

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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MoviesZooey Deschanel500 Days of Summer (movie)Paul DanoAntonio BanderasAnnette Bening
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    Yes, Paul Dano’s real-life girlfriend Zoe Kazan deliberately wrote certain things for him in “Ruby Sparks,” in which the real-life couple plays a couple. The movie is not about them, though.

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