independent

Tuesday 17 October 2017

Delightfully offbeat comedy with chemistry

RUBY SPARKS (15) ★★★★

Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan in Ruby Sparks.
Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan in Ruby Sparks.

ART IMITATES life imitates art in this delightfully offbeat romantic comedy, which ponders if the man or woman of your dreams is exactly that: a fantastical creation. Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who collected a mantelpiece of awards for Little Miss Sunshine, Ruby Sparks stars real-life couple Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan as lovebirds magically brought together by unseen forces.

They catalyse smouldering screen chemistry, surrounded by a strong ensemble cast including Antonio Banderas and Annette Bening as hippie parents, whose carefree attitude to life and love provides a template of perfection that other characters struggle to emulate.

Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) wrote his first novel at the age of 19. The book was embraced by critics as a modern masterpiece and he has coasted along on the adulation, unable to find the words for a follow-up, or a girl who loves him and not his celebrity. During a regular visit to psychiatrist Dr Rosenthal (Elliott Gould), Calvin confides that a beautiful girl is haunting his dreams and the shrink suggests that it may be therapeutic to commit these nocturnal imaginings to paper.

So to cure his writer's block, Calvin follows Dr Rosenthal's guidance and churns out volumes about the mystery girl. Miraculously, Ruby (Zoe Kazan) manifests in Calvin's apartment.

"It's like that movie Harvey, except she's not a giant rabbit," Calvin tells his incredulous brother, Harry (Chris Messina).

"The situation is crazy, I am not," Calvin assures his sibling, demonstrating his control over Ruby by making her speak fluent French simply by adding a relevant sentence to his manuscript.

"For men everywhere, tell me you're not gonna let that go to waste," grins Harry, sensing the possibilities for moulding Ruby into the perfect, subservient partner.

She is blissfully unaware that she was once a figment of Calvin's feverish imagination and as romantic bonds strengthen between the couple, Harry's initial enthusiasm mellows into fraternal concern. "What are you going to do? Marry her? Wouldn't that be incest - mind-cest?"

Written by lead actress Kazan, Ruby Sparks conjures fond memories of Stranger Than Fiction as Calvin ponders the morality of bedding his literary creation.

The script ventures into darker territory when Calvin grows weary of his soulmate and spitefully puts her through the physical and emotional wringer using his typewriter. Thankfully, the film pulls back from the abyss at the last moment so we retain our sympathy and affection for the beleaguered hero.

Dano is endearing as the introverted scribe crippled by success, and Kazan is luminous, staring wide-eyed into the camera with an irresistible twinkle in her eye.

Towards the end of the film, Ruby speaks for us all when she smiles at Calvin and coos, "Just don't tell me how it ends, OK?" OK, we won't.

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