There’s a lot to unpack about Ruby Sparks. There isn’t a lot to the plot beyond the premise, but let’s start there. Calvin (Paul Dano) plays a young writer who can’t seem to sit down and follow-up his early masterpiece of a novel, until he gets an assignment from his therapist to write about his dreams. And he dreams about a girl named Ruby (Zoe Kazan) from Dayton, OH (because it sounds romantic), whose flaws are only endearing” (as his brother Harry – Chris Messina – puts it when he reads a first draft). Because of magical realism, his typewriter creates Ruby out of his thoughts, and then he learns that he can control her by changing what he has written.
When this came out it was seen as screenwriter/co-star Kazan’s critique of the ‘manic pixie dream girl‘ trope that Nathan Rabin unleashed upon the world in his review of Elizabethtown. And on one level it is: white, rich, writer-boy is sad and lonely – perfectly quirky non-threatening hipster girl with no clear direction of her own appears seemingly out of nowhere to fix his sad, dull life. But that’s where it gets interesting, Calvin resents her for trying to change him (they spend a particularly awful weekend with his lovely, weird hippie mom and stepdad – Annette Bening & Antonio Banderas) and he sulks around the whole time that Ruby wants to be talking with them rather than holed up in the tree house with him reading. You see because he can’t handle when she’s her own person and not his creation.
This next paragraph gets a little spoliery so if you want to watch the movie maybe stop here.
Of course young, male screenwriters are not the only people who create manic pixie dream girls for themselves. We all do it in a way. At the beginning of a relationship, before we know anything about the other person we ‘write’ our idea of them, and then it’s jarring later when they aren’t matching up to the story that we created. I think that’s what this movie is really about, and so when it takes the inevitable dark turn, he twists her to the point where she has no agency, it becomes almost a horror movie. We see her struggle against his demands and he despite claiming to love her, keeps typing. It’s hard to watch, but only because I think we can relate to his impulse, “can’t you just see that if you were more like I wanted you to be, we would still be happy?” he seems to be screaming. And she tries I think, because she doesn’t have any idea who she is, so his thoughts are her guideposts.
It’s a lovely movie filled with thought-provoking questions, but I didn’t know what to make of the ending. I don’t think he should be allowed to even think of a future with her; how do you come back from such cruelty?
Anyway, for my next link I’m going to use an actor that didn’t come up at all in the above review, because this is my blog and I can do that. Eliot Gould has a slightly bigger than cameo part in this as Calvin’s therapist, he delightfully disengaged even as Calvin says horrible things in that way that only therapists can truly get away with. And I’ve been meaning to catch up with director Paul Mazursky’s work since he passed away in June, so I’m going to use Gould as my link to Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice.
In this chain:
What If – Ruby Sparks