Ruby Sparks Review: The Dangers of Mindcest

MV5BMjE2OTM5OTUyOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODI4Nzg3Nw@@._V1_SX214_Between this year’s theatrical releases and the classic movies I’ve been working my way through, there has been very little time to catch up on some of the hidden gems of 2012 that I’ve missed.  Of these, the only three I now have remaining are Headhunters, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Robot & Frank, all three of which I’ll probably get covered within the next month.  Today’s 2012 diamond in the rough, however, comes in the form of  the first movie co-directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris have put forth since the 2006 indie-darling Little Miss Sunshine.  Featuring one of the most original premises of last year, Ruby Sparks was met by all of the critical success and none of the box office punch of it’s predecessor, the latter of which is a real shame in light of the breath of fresh air that it is.  Its implausible story may put off some viewers, but Ruby Sparks‘ central theme of the love’s inability to be designed or forced provides a spectacular catalyst for the development of it’s characters


_DSC2825.NEFA novelist struggling with writer’s block finds romance in a most unusual way: by creating a female character he thinks will love him, then willing her into existence.

If you try to look at the story in terms of mechanics or rationality, you’re probably going to be frustrated.  The story in Ruby Sparks is almost exclusively used as a frame for the characters’ developments than anything else.  Luckily, it does such a great job of developing those characters that I didn’t mind the questions raised by the plot, even though the ending did feel a bit too confusing for its own good.

The Players:

images (1)Many of you might remember lead actor Paul Dano from his nearly silent role in Little Miss Sunshine, though even more of you will likely remember his as (character) form There Will Be Blood.  In different ways, both of those films displayed how impressive of an actor Dano is, and I can say without much hesitation that Ruby Sparks reinforces that point even further.  For the first half of the movie, Calvin is mostly defined as a neurotic shut-in but once Ruby enters the picture we start to see him both at his best and at his worst.  The last twenty minutes in particular are incredibly powerful, largely due to the darker side to (character) that is finally laid bare.

451087_014Ruby herself, played by writer and producer Zoe Kazan, is a very interesting character but in a very different way.  The reason for this is that she really isn’t a real character as much as she is a reflection of Calvin’s personality.  Because her actions and mannerisms are controlled by him, her development is completely dependent on what Calvin wants her to be.  This shifts the focus of her character to the complexities of just what it is that creates love between two people, which I’ll elaborate upon in the writing section.  In any case, I thought Kazan did a great job of conveying the intended effects of the character.

Ruby-Sparks-3-540x337Besides the Kazan and Dano, though, my favorite member of the supporting cast was definitely Chris Messina as Calvin’s vicariously frat-boyish brother Harry.  Messina reminds me of a sort of male version of Jessica Chastain in terms of the sheer amount of very different roles he is able to melt into.  His role here is something of a stand in for most “normal” audiences in terms of his reactions to the situation at hand (the magical creation of a fantasy girl from words entered into a typewriter), and he brings a level of down-to-earth honesty that goes a long way in revealing Calvin’s flaws.

The Writing:

rubyAs I said before, this movie doesn’t exist to tell a story but to explore the complexities of love and relationships.  Anyone who has ever been in a relationship can relate to the thought of what would happen if you were given the ability to change something in the other person.  This movie takes a long hard look at what would happen if that was the case, and in Calvin’s case it takes the form of a series of increasingly drastic overcorrections.  Calvin creates his dream girl, only to discover small flaws.  When he tries to change her to “fix” those flaws, he only creates more and more until the entire thing unravels entirely.  I could go on and on about the internal conversations this started in my mind, but the fact that it prompted those conversations in the first place should be an indicator of the lasting impact of the film’s subject matter.

ruby sparks_poolAs a side note, I can understand some feminist concerns some might have with the film.  After all, the only female lead is essentially an exploration of what a man wants out of his significant other (i.e. the Pixie dream girl).  I would argue that this is mitigated by the way the movie handles the effect.  They could have gone a much more sexist route by having Calvin write in things like “Large breasts, great ass, long legs”, but the almost entirely non-physical focuses of the changes Calvin writes in make it much easier to think of Calvin and Ruby’s relationship in more of a gender-neutral way.

The Verdict:  8.0/10  Pretty Damn Great

+ Inventive and interesting premise and story

+ Great performances by Dano and Kazan

+ A really great set of observations on the nature of relationships

– The mechanics of the plot are assumed to be unimportant, but are still a bit distracting

Critical Consensus:

Rotten Tomatoes: 79%

IMDb: 7.2/10

Metacritic: 67/100

Other Reviews:

Marked Movies: 4.5/5

Filmhipster: 90%

The Cinematic Katzenjammer: 8.6/10

Committed to Celluloid: 4/5

Marshall and the Movies: B-

The Code is Zeek: 2.5/5

The Cinemaniac: C+

About r361n4

I'm a student at the University of Washington Majoring Business. I've always loved movies and my goal is to work on the financial side of the film industry. Until then though, I figure I'll spare my friends from my opinions and shout them from a digital mountaintop for anyone who's interested. After all, if a tree falls in a forest and nobody blogs about it, does it really happen?
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17 Responses to Ruby Sparks Review: The Dangers of Mindcest

  1. Nice review Andy. I really enjoyed this as well and liked its darker side. You do have to completely buy into the story though and not go looking for plot holes or anything like that. Having said that, and being slightly hypocritical, I really didn’t like the ending as it didn’t really make a lot of sense to me.

  2. Mr Rumsey says:

    This sounds really interesting! Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  3. myreelpov says:

    LOVED this film when I saw it in the cinema, great review, couldn’t have put it better myself 🙂
    The end of the film is very different to the rest of it which did throw me off a little but like you said it showed the darker side of what was actually happening – it also shocked me because I wasn’t expecting him to so much control over her actions. Was very satisfied with the ending though in the park. Brilliant film!

  4. Mark Walker says:

    Glad to hear you enjoyed this Andy. I lover it. It was one of last years sleeper hits for me.

  5. Mindcest haha 😀

    I still need to see this 😀

  6. ruth says:

    Great review! I saw this on advanced screening w/ cast/crew and was blown away by how good the writing was, kudos to Zoe Kazan. And Dano’s performance was incredible, he nailed the writer’s block thing perfectly.

  7. This was one of my favorite movies from last year! Great review!

  8. filmhipster says:

    This and Silver Linings Playbook we’re highly unorthodox rom-com’s, loved them both and loved your review!

    Thanks for including my link! 🙂

  9. Wordschat says:

    Your review really captures the essence without spoilers. Nicely done. I think this works so well because of the chemistry tween the characters. I bet he fact they are a couple in real life made for some interesting dinner talk. Very good film.

  10. Great review, man. One of the highlights of 2012 for me. Loved this movie! Kazan was fantastic (both on and off-screen) and I loved Dano and Messina as well.

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