With a resume that includes a few roles on Broadway and several small supporting credits in film, Zoe Kazan isn’t necessarily a household name. That should all change however, with “Ruby Sparks.” This rising talent exposes her unparallel gifts as an actress and writer in this superb comedy from Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the husband and wife directing team that previously made “Little Miss Sunshine.” Kazan is quirky, fearless, lovely, and flawless in making the audience fall in love with Ruby Sparks, who is brought to life via an imaginative début screenplay and the single best female performance of the year so far. In short, it’s a perfect marriage of a great role and a compatible actress.
Ruby Sparks isn’t exactly a real human being. She merely starts off as a character created by Calvin Weir-Fields, played by Paul Dano. Calvin is a high school drop out who hit it big after writing one of the most significant novels of this generation. The problem is that Calvin now suffers from severe writers block. Using his dated typewriter, the stressed novelist writes himself into a romance with his dream girl, Ruby. One morning, Calvin wakes up to find that the cute redhead he fabricated has literally come to life. As far as Ruby knows though, she is an authentic person that’s in love with Calvin.
At first, Calvin naturally thinks he’s gone crazy, comparing himself to Jimmy Stewart in “Harvey.” His initial fears are put to rest, however, when his brother, played by Chris Messina in a very funny performance, is able to see Ruby, too. They discover that Calvin can alter Ruby to do and feel anything, from being happy, to being upset, to speaking fluent French. But in Calvin’s eyes, the girl he has created is perfect in every way.
“Ruby Sparks” makes no attempt to clarify how Calvin has brought this woman to life. This really isn’t a movie fuelled by logic or explanation though. It’s all about the emotional journey the audience takes with the characters. What Kazan, Dayton and Faris deliver on this journey is a fantastic mixture of humor, honesty and whimsy, much like a Woody Allen picture. Dano notably evokes memories of Allen’s earlier performances as this paranoid, anti-social individual way in over his head.
The film includes fun supporting performances from Annette Bening as Calvin’s hippie mother, Antonio Banderas as her lover, and Elliot Gould as a shrink. But the movie really belongs to the extremely compelling leads. Their romance is equally sweet and twisted, amounting to a highly emotional climax with Oscar-caliber work from both actors. Dano and especially Kazan are what ultimately make “Ruby Sparks” fly off the pages.
Ahwatukee native and Desert Vista graduate Nick Spake is a student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.