The concept of an imaginary being brought to life as a coping mechanism has peppered cinema over the decades.
The concept of an imaginary being brought to life as a
coping mechanism has peppered cinema over the decades. An obvious reference to Harvey is dropped into Ruby Sparks, Zoe Kazan’s story about the intimate
creation of a man’s inward loneliness that transforms into reality. A more contemporary comparison could be
to Craig Gillespie’s sweetly
troubled Lars and the Real Girl,
where Ryan Gosling’s anxious recluse
uses a sex doll to ease him away from solitude.
Ruby’s creator Calvin is filled out by Paul Dano, who strikes a familiar chord with the common male
hermit. His unsure disposition, tired reactions and dishevelled wariness seem
second nature, with his sunken eyes framing a constant state of concern and
loss. Through the steady advice of
his shrink (Elliot Gould) and the
hetero pressure of his older brother Harry (Chris Messina), Calvin takes to his typewriter and with each solemn
punch of the keys becomes increasingly besotted with his subject, to the point
where one morning he awakes to find her in his kitchen.
Auburn hair, block colour tights and saucepan eyes make Ruby
(Zoe Kazan) an obvious object of the modern male’s adoration; not conventionally
pretty but outlandish, occasionally insecure and boasting all the coolness of a
double-page American Apparel ad. Kazan admirably conveys a needy temperament
coupled with unfaltering friendliness, to the extent where as Messina’s Harry
observes, “You’ve created a girl, not a person.”
As conventional relationships go this one starts well, with
any number of fun montages of arcades, underground gigs and awkward frolicking
accompanied by trendy French pop music. Despite Harry’s prods and nudges Calvin
refuses to carry on writing, content with his new love. It’s when Ruby begins
to crave independence that Calvin starts to tug at strings and a crippling fear
of being alone begins to settle back in.
Dano’s performance, like many prior to this is pleasantly
effective. From his intense connection to Ruby to the sinister consequences of
his obsession, he’s utterly believable whether he’s lovely or terrifying. Kazan
in turn is required to mould to Calvin’s expectations and moves from clammy
depression to manic joy impressively. Supporting performances are fine but
lacking in substance. Annette Bening
and Antonio Banderas as Calvin’s
mother and stepfather merely flesh out the cause of his insecurities and a
fleeting appearance from Steve Coogan
as an arrogant agent doesn’t pose as much of a threat as it should.
The conclusion to Calvin’s relationship with his fictional
belle is, alas, a corny one, playing a string of clichés better left to the
rom-coms of shiny Hollywood. For the most part however Ruby Sparks is a
striking piece of cinema with a couple of great leads, a superb soundtrack and
a notable debut for screenwriter Kazan.