Fox // 2012 // 104 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // November 22nd, 2012
She's out of his mind.
"This is the true and impossible story of my very great love."
At the age of 19, Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano, There Will Be Blood) wrote a novel that was regarded as an instant classic. Alas, Calvin has proven incapable of churning out anything nearly as impressive in the years since. Despite his numerous fans, he struggles with insecurity and fear of social interaction. Calvin's psychiatrist (Elliot Gould, The Long Goodbye) suggests a therapeutic exercise: he should imagine a person who likes him and write about that person. Calvin accepts the assignment reluctantly, but soon finds himself enthralled with creating the whimsical, fantastical, incredibly loving Ruby Sparks. He's even more enthralled when he discovers that his fictional creation has somehow become a real, living, breathing human being (Zoe Kazan, Revolutionary Road).
Calvin and Ruby strike up a relationship, and it's no surprise that things start off smashingly -- after all, she's his dream girl. However, the two begin to drift apart after a while, and Calvin begins to debate whether or not he should start writing about Ruby once again in the hopes of manipulating her behavior to his advantage.
As Ruby Sparks concluded and the end credits started to roll, I let out a wistful sigh of disappointment. For the majority of its running time, the film is a superbly acted, smartly written, thought-provoking examination of human relationships. It offers crackling humor, intense drama, spot-on observations about a number of irksome modern stereotypes and stellar direction. And then, in its closing scene, the film undoes nearly all of the good will it has engendered and reveals itself to be a surprisingly empty, pointless exercise. Bad endings are always frustrating, but never more so than when they're attached to otherwise excellent films.
Ruby Sparks is the sophomore effort of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who previously won great acclaim for the 2006 film Little Miss Sunshine. It's become fashionable to despise their debut in recent times, but it remains an effective (not to mention infectious) effort. That movie marked the emergence of the marvelous milquetoast Paul Dano, who has established himself as one of cinema's most gifted whiners in the years since. Ruby Sparks is a role that plays to his strengths, as he's more than capable of handling the part of an insecure writer who takes each new step in life with great hesitation. Dano never misses a beat as the character slowly but surely descends into something resembling terrifying villainy.
Zoe Kazan turns in a similarly impressive performance, bringing to life an amalgam of every Manic Pixie Dream Girl that has been thrust upon moviegoers in recent years. The film swiftly and smartly recognizes this character type as a preposterous male fantasy rather than as a real human being. The manner in which the film underlines the dark impracticalities of such a person is a strong example of a film functioning as film criticism; in many ways Ruby Sparks feels like the anti-Elizabethtown. People tend to primarily think of the objectification of women in a sexual context, but the film serves as a strong reminder that such things often happen in much more innocuous, subversive, easily digested ways.
Alas...that ending. I won't spoil it for you or even hint at what happens, aside from saying that it renders every significant point the film has made obsolete and immediately transforms Ruby Sparks from something special into...well, just another movie. Here is a film that slowly marches right up to the edge of the abyss, then turns around and flees back to safety as quickly as possible.
Ruby Sparks (Blu-ray) has received an excellent 1080p/1.85:1 transfer that offers superb detail and depth throughout. The image is rich (and surprisingly filmic for a film shot on digital) and warm; considerably more cinematic than the average romantic comedy (to the degree that this film can be labeled a romantic comedy, anyway). Flesh tones are warm and natural. Darker scenes impress due to strong shadow delineation. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is reasonably effective, delivering the dialogue-dominated track with clarity. A key sequence late in the film manages to stir up a pretty considerable ruckus and gets a strong mix, but otherwise there's little that will make you sit up and take notice. Supplements are limited to some very brief EPK-style featurettes ("The Story," "The Cast," "Real Life Couples," "Be Careful What You Wish For" and "Los Angeles: The Other Character" add up to less then 20 minutes combined) and a theatrical trailer.
Ruby Sparks does nothing to dissuade me of the notion that Dayton and Faris are gifted filmmakers, but it's a little unnerving to see them get so many things right yet manage to get the ending so terribly wrong. The film has many qualities, but it's much less than the sum of its parts.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English, Descriptive)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated R