I love movies about writers. I also love surreal movies that are grounded in real emotion (think, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, one of my eternal favorites). Ruby Sparks, now out on DVD/Amazon Instant/iTunes, is both, so no wonder it was on my must-watch list.
Calvin, the movie’s main character, was a literary prodigy—he wrote a world-renowned bestseller at the age of 19. Now, a decade later, he’s unable to write more than a short story. “I get a good idea,” he says, “and then, bam, I start thinking it’s the stupidest thing ever.” He finally does get an idea that has legs, eventually real ones—in the form of a character named Ruby Sparks—and he’s soon writing nonstop on his manual typewriter (no commonplace computer for him) about this dream girl. When she comes to life, the movie has the chance to examine profound questions about what happens when we get what we think we want. In his case, a woman he can control.
One of Calvin’s complaints is that no woman wants him just for himself—they want to be with this idea of him, this literary star—so it’s no surprise that Ruby doesn’t even read. And true to her dream girl origins, she’s also, at least at first, an embodiment of that ever-elusive “perfect” female; she’s loving and fun without being needy, without, you know, having needs of her own. But when she starts to want more from life than just Calvin, the movie truly moves into emotionally difficult territory. One of my favorite scenes happens late in the movie when Calvin runs into his ex-girlfriend, whom we’ve only heard negative things about. The scene’s timing is perfect (since we’ve gotten to know Calvin much better) and illustrative of the bias inherent in the stories we tell ourselves and others about what happens in our lives.
Ruby Sparks is sweet, funny, and lonely-sad, a kindred spirit to the movie Little Miss Sunshine, which was also directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. In addition, it scores bonus points for being written by the totally adorable Zoe Kazan, who plays Ruby, and for starring her real-life love Paul Dano. It’s a fresh and modern take on the Pygmalion story and a great showcase for Kazan, who I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more of in the future.
In the upcoming weeks, I’m going to talk about other movies I love that are about writers. In the meantime:
What are your favorite movies about writers?