What we think we want and what we need are not the same.
That seems to be the message of “Ruby Sparks,” an offbeat adult romance with a prominent streak of fantasy running through it.
Calvin (Paul Dano), a wunderkind hit novelist, has had writer’s block ever since his girlfriend left him. It’s hard to follow up on a runaway critical and financial hit.
He doesn’t like dating because he’s introverted and because he can’t tell the difference between when a woman is interested in him and when she’s interested in who she thinks he is because of his writing.
His married brother, Harry (Chris Messina, “Julie & Julia”), thinks playing the field looks good.
His shrink (Elliott Gould) urges Calvin to write about a woman he would like to meet, who might love him, dealing with both major issues at once.
Lying in his shrink’s office, Calvin begins to see her on the ceiling. Soon his feverish writing about this new character, Ruby Sparks, consumes him.
One day he wakes to find she (Zoe Kazan) exists and is living with him. He’s sure he’s the only one who can see her, but no — she’s real.
Freaked out, he confides only in his brother, who naturally thinks he’s nuts.
“The situation is crazy,” Calvin explains. “I am not.”
Thus begins the strange love story of Calvin and Ruby, which only gets stranger when Calvin discovers he can change Ruby simply by typing something new about her.
“For men everywhere, tell me you’re not gonna let that go to waste,” his brother cracks.
The movie meanders as Calvin copes. First he tries to keep Ruby to himself so people won’t discover how she came to be, but Ruby’s an artist and she wants to work. She wants to spend time with his family and friends. She wants to go out.
She wants to meet his new-agey mother (Annette Bening) and her partner (Antonio Banderas).
As Ruby becomes unhappy, Calvin can’t resist the urge to return to the typewriter for some alterations. They don’t go the way he thinks they will.
“Ruby Sparks” doesn’t exploit the situation by exploring the crass side of what the male fantasy of the perfect woman might be. Instead, it forces Calvin to deal with his own demons while discovering love means nothing if not freely given.
“I wanna be what’s making her happy — without making her happy,” he tells Harry.
This is all made more interesting by the fact that Dano (“Little Miss Sunshine”) and Kazan (“It’s Complicated”) have been a real-life couple for five years.
Further, Kazan wrote the script. She’s the granddaughter of Oscar-winning director Elia Kazan (“On the Waterfront”), and she appears to have inherited more than her own share of movie talent.
“Ruby Sparks” is a lark, a quirky romance played out by two talented actors. It has a little something to say about fantasy and love, and it made me think of similar movie concepts like “Stranger Than Fiction” or “The Red Shoes” that delve into a mix of dream, desire and sobering reality.
It’s a niche film that won’t work for everybody, but it worked for me.
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