Writer’s block is tough. Believe me, as a contributor and editor of Lot’s Wife this year, I can attest to the horrific feeling of staring at a blank screen – it has been about 90% of my job. Not only is it frustrating, it’s a somewhat lonely pursuit. So it only seems natural that a writer (Zoe Kazan) would extrapolate this self-imposed torture into a narrative that stretches to the very edge of feasibility.
Ruby Sparks, from the directors of Little Miss Sunshine, tells the story of Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano). Writer of a highly-regarded ‘Great American Novel’ in his youth, ten years later he is suffering a sophomore slump and alienating himself from the rest of the world in a vain attempt to break his writer’s block. Inspired by a romantic dream and a writing assignment given to him by his psychiatrist (Elliot Gould), Calvin wills his character – Ruby Sparks (Kazan) – into existence.
Although quite reminiscent of Stranger Than Fiction (2006) and Barton Fink (1991), Ruby Sparks is classic Indiewood rom-com fare. Michael Cera or Zach Braff would not have been implausible in the role of Calvin, and it seems almost criminal that Zooey Deschanel hasn’t been cast in the title role. Ruby is exactly the kind of ‘hey-I’m-quirky-and-a-little-dumb-but-aren’t-I-so-cute-and-indie-don’t-you-just-want-me’ character on which Deschanel has built her career and reputation.
Yet, I’m glad that these actors weren’t cast. Ruby Sparks is more than just a light, lovey film, and it requires more than just a cardboard cast. It navigates the full experience of relationships and human emotion. Yes, there’s love and laughter, but also desperation and terror. The film is a depiction of the tortured soul of the artist, the un-ease of reality and knowledge and the allure of fantasy. It also reflects the unrealistic expectations that many people carry into romantic relationships. These issues are dealt with in a far better fashion than that normally exhibited in a saccharine Indiewood storyline; in truth, the only let down is the ending. In the interest of avoiding spoiling the film, I’ll only describe it here as ‘incorrect’, yet I have no doubt that it will satisfy less prudent filmgoers than myself.
Three and a half stars.