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Friday, Dec. 14, 2012

'Ruby Sparks'

Every man's dream? Writing the perfect girl into their life

There comes a point in a woman's life when she feels her life is being written by someone else (a man, most likely) and instead of being in control, she's acting out a part solely to please him and live up to his expectations. It happens to the best of us. I'm guessing it even happened to actress Zoe Kazan ("It's Complicated," "Revolutionary Road") because she wrote a screenplay about this very theme, and cast herself in the starring role. "Ruby Sparks" is the enticing title, and Kazan has thrown herself into the titular character with a force that maybe reveals she had a real and very large axe to grind.

Ruby Sparks Rating: (3.5 out of 5)
★ ★ ★ ?
Ruby Sparks
Sparks fly: Zoe Kazan (right) is a male fantasy brought to life by struggling writer Paul Dano (Calvin Weir-Fields, left) in "Ruby Sparks." © 2012 Twentieth Century Fox

Director: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
Running time: 104 minutes
Language: English with Japanese subtitles
Opens Dec. 15, 2012
[See Japan Times movie listing]

"Ruby Sparks" takes classic male fantasy schmaltz and wallows in it. It's the sort of story a younger Woody Allen could have written (and he certainly explores the theme in "Stardust Memories") but Kazan's dialogue is more raw, bolder, and much less inclined to frills such as cultural references and running social commentary. The premise is simple: an author with a massive case of writer's block wills the girl of his dreams into existence. He then proceeds to plot her life and their entire relationship to his specifications. Hence, 26-year-old Ruby Sparks is deposited into this author's life. She can speak French, but was kicked out of high school for sleeping with her art teacher. She has the most adorable bangs. She's got the most enchanting curves. And she wears purple tights under a tight, red mini dress. Pure dream girl.

Allen would no doubt appreciate the few nods to 20th century literature; the scribe/protagonist Paul Dano (Calvin Weir-Fields) works on an old-fashioned manual typewriter and the film's husband-wife directorial team of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris ("Little Miss Sunshine") deploy the nostalgic tap-tap sound of the keys and the whirring zing of the cartridge, to full advantage. Indeed, whatever else the Internet has given us, it's hard to envisage a real, live girl emerging from the inside of a laptop. A typewriter on the other hand, has a mysterious romanticism to it.

And Paul is not your standard budding writer hunched over his Macbook Air at Starbucks, no sir. He works from home (a huge, all-white apartment in Southern California) and he's already a genius. That is, he was deemed a genius when he came out with his first novel some years back and the world lauded him as the new J.D. Salinger. Now Paul can't seem to put words to paper, obsessing instead about the recent break-up with his ex-girlfriend Lia (Deborah Ann Woll) and why the heck he can't meet the girl, whoever she is. His therapist (Elliott Gould) advises him to get a dog, so he can take it for walks and meet new people. His brother Harry (Chris Messina) assures him, "You don't know jack about women."

Probably so. But Paul knows what he wants in a woman, and that's a different concept altogether. He writes it all down, and for the first time in months he feels the thrill of applying thoughts to paper as the typewriter clacks away. Then one morning, he wakes up and sees Ruby in his kitchen, wearing one of his shirts and nothing else, making breakfast. The whole thing is a jaw-dropper for Paul and initially, he convinces himself that as a figment of his run-amuck imagination, Ruby is invisible to everyone else. He tests the theory in a cafe and lo and behold, not only can everyone see her, all the other men in the room are checking her out. Paul is ecstatic, and soon reports to Harry: "she loves giving blow jobs!"

"Ruby Sparks" seems like a perfect opportunity for some good old-fashioned irony, or a chance to blast away with sarcasm/accusations/spluttered indignation and such. After all, Ruby is a veritable, male fantasy come true. Guys, what's your definition of an adorable woman? She can cook, but can't pay the bills. She can roller blade, but is a lousy driver. And she's never in a bad mood and seems to have no outside interests other than making her boyfriend happy, or a better person, or a brilliant writer. I'm telling you, sometimes you just want to smack Paul's nose with a rolled-up magazine.

Paradoxically, it's this maddening discomfort that makes "Ruby Sparks" what it is. Feminists will be none too pleased certainly, but there's something to be said for tight mini dresses, drinking martinis through a straw, padding around in the kitchen in a man's shirt, making breakfast as his face melts in adoration. Maybe this cute-and-adorable stuff isn't all bad. For evidence, see Ruby in action. She sure beats self-help relationship blogs.

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