Sometimes, when we’re down and out, we need a muse, someone who will bring us back to life, give us a new perspective, and make life bearable or (gasp!) enjoyable.
What if you were able to create that person when you needed them the most? Like, literally create them.
In Ruby Sparks, Paul Dano plays Calvin Weir-Fields, a boy genius who hates being labeled a genius and who published a bestselling novel at the age of 19. When we meet Calvin, he’s 29 and he’s only been able to publish short stories and novellas since his groundbreaking novel. He’s plagued by social anxiety and writer’s block. His social interactions are limited to his gym rat brother, his therapist, his agent, and legions of fans who think they know who he is by worshiping his work. Oh, and Calvin was dumped in the not too distant past – a few weeks after his father died.
Yes, Calvin’s life is seemingly glamorous but ultimately shit.
Until he meets Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan) in his dreams.
Ruby first shows up haloed by the sun, her features obscured by the light, stumbling toward Calvin with only one shoe on, and on the brink of laughing. “Why are you looking at me like that?” she giggles.
The second time Ruby shows up in Calvin’s dreams, she manifests as a beautiful girl and also his savior. Ruby, a painter, asks to sketch Scotty, Calvin’s strangely agoraphobic dog who pees like a girl. Ruby says that she likes and accepts Scotty just the way he is. In doing so, Ruby provides the raw material for a writing assignment Calvin has received from his therapist.
Calvin wakes up and immediately goes to his typewriter to complete the writing assignment. But he doesn’t stop there. He writes everything about Ruby – her past, her first crushes, her vices. I don’t think Ruby’s last name, Sparks, is an accident. Or even a proper noun, for that matter. It’s a verb. Sparks. The dreams of Ruby spark something in Calvin, something that has been dead for a long time–or perhaps something he didn’t know he possessed.
Naturally, he starts to insert himself into his story as Ruby’s boyfriend. I mean, who wouldn’t?
Calvin enjoys his imaginary relationship with Ruby until razors and panties start showing up in his house. Then, Ruby shows up. Yeah, outside Calvin’s dreams, wearing one of his button-up dress shirts and cooking him eggs in his kitchen. At first, Calvin thinks he’s seeing things. After all, he is in therapy. And famous writers are notorious for psychotic breaks. But when Ruby follows him out in public and other people start to notice and talk to her, Calvin quickly realizes that the girl of his dreams has become his reality.
So, he does what any red-blooded boy would do. He kisses the girl. He takes her to meet his family. He starts to really live his life. He realizes that everything is beautiful with Ruby by his side.
He also realizes that Ruby does not know that he created her. And even more mind-boggling, with a few swift strokes of his typewriter, Calvin can control Ruby – the language she speaks, her emotions, her clothing – everything.
Of course, Calvin is happy with the way Ruby is. He created her. She’s perfect despite her complexities.”She’s complicated. That’s what I like best about her,” Calvin says.
So, he vows to never write about Ruby again.
But what happens when the girl of your dreams starts to doubt that you’re the man of hers? Ruby isn’t just Calvin’s creation; she’s a blood and bone human being with emotions and wants and needs – and maybe she doesn’t need Calvin.
Ruby Sparks is an imaginative expose about relationships and the flawed concept of perfection. When Calvin starts to lose his hold on Ruby – undoubtedly the best thing that’s ever happened to him – he has to ask himself how far he’ll go to keep her. And will “keeping” Ruby ultimately change her? Will she start to lose the spark Calvin so desperately needs?
This film is at times hilarious, lighthearted, and romantic (like when Calvin and Ruby play a drinking game at a zombie film fest and then make out at an arcade – on top of the video games); at others, it’s harrowing, troubled, and raw (like when Calvin leaves Ruby alone at a party and she’s tempted to succumb to her past vices).
At its heart, Ruby Sparks is a love story, and a rather realistic one at that. This couple is extraordinary by circumstance, but heartbreakingly ordinary in every other respect. You want to root for them, because you see and understand their connection; but you also know when one of them fucks up and it’s no surprise that their relationship teeters on the breaking point.
Ruby Sparks shows us that love is alive and real and quirky, but you can’t pick the parts you want in a relationship. You have to pick the person you want. And then you have to strive to be the one they dream about. Because in the end, they pick you, too.
Do Calvin and Ruby wind up together? If they do, is it the Ruby of Calvin’s dreams, or the Ruby of his reality?
You, my friends, will have to watch to find out.
PS – Zoe Kazan both wrote the screenplay and starred as Ruby Sparks…but wait for it! Her and Paul Dano are a real-life couple, too. Adorable? Yes. Makes me love this movie even more.