Friday, August 10, 2012


Writer falls for his fictional creation in smart, funny 'Ruby Sparks'

There's always a Pygmalion factor involved in the creative process. What author doesn't fall in love with his or her characters now and then? Imagine Margaret Mitchell grinning fondly at Rhett Butler's caustic wisecracks, or Anne Rice sighing over Lestat's every erotic bite.

But suppose an author was so profoundly in love with his fictive heroine that she emerged as a flesh and blood person in the midst of his real life? Such is the miracle—and the dilemma—at the heart of Ruby Sparks, the offbeat, savvy and charming new romantic comedy from directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine).

The screenplay was written by actress and playwright Zoe Kazan, who also co-stars in the film. The legendary Billy Wilder once advised an obscure young actor named Billy Bob Thornton that if you want a good part in Hollywood, you'd better write it yourself, advice Kazan has taken to heart.

In her story, novelist Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) was a publishing phenomenon at 19, when his first novel became a runaway bestseller, defined a generation, and became required reading on every college campus in America. Ten years later, battling writer's block, he starts writing down ideas about his ultimate dream girl, a character he names Ruby. The more he writes about her background and the quirks of her personality, the more inspired he becomes; soon he's in the thick of a manuscript in which Ruby falls in love with a writer named Calvin.

Imagine his shock when he wakes up one morning to find Ruby herself (Kazan) bustling about in his kitchen.

As movies about writing go, this is no Wonder Boys. It doesn't offer the same edgy, comprehensive look at the way publishing, academia, and literary lionism conspire to create an industry that eats its young. But Ruby Sparks isn't really a movie about writing; it's about finding the balance of power in a relationship, and finding a place for love to root and flourish somewhere in the twilight zone between control and free will. In this respect, it's both inventive and achingly true. (Read more in this week's Good Times)

Btw: big kudos to whoever designed that clever poster! I love how it sets up the whole premise in one great, punchy image!


  1. Valerie Faris is the daughter of Santa Cruz's own Jim and Paula Faris, who themselves were in the film industry. She and Jonathan Dayton are married. And to bring this relationships story full circle--Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan, who is Elia Kazan's granddaughter, are a couple.

  2. All absolutely true!

    I've known Jim and Paula for years and they are a delightful couple. At the moment, I believe they're involved in hosting classic film screenings for Lifelong Learners in Santa Cruz.

    But I wouldn't want anyone to think my friendship with the Farises colors my judgement about Ruby Sparks. I like this movie because I'm a sucker for movies about writers—especially when they are this smart and funny!