By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
The “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” is a well-loved trope of modern cinema, to the point that it’s a stereotype that sells itself. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it describes a pretty, excessively peppy girl with quirky tastes in music and clothing. If that’s still not ringing a bell, here:
Now you get me
Ruby Sparks finds a way to use the stereotype in a way that all of its unrealistic properties kinda make sense. Calvin is a writer who found incredible success at a very young age, and is now struggling both with his writing and his personal life. When his therapist tasks him with writing about a woman who loves him despite his many, many foibles, he creates Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan), a character so drawn out and realistic that she actually becomes… real.
The premise of a perfectly written woman who becomes real (and who can be changed or controlled with a keystroke) is a big one, offering plenty of practical and moral conundrums to explore.
This didn’t exactly close the book on them
The strength of Ruby Sparks is that it takes a practical approach to the situation, offering humor, drama, and hidden depths. Kazan, who also wrote the film, uses it as a basis to explore the objectification of women, both large and small, intentional and unintentional; the same mindspace that helped create the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype in the first place.
The acting of a nice cast that also includes Steve Coogan, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, and Chris Messina is strong all around, and Dano in particular delivers a neurotic, well-rounded performance. The film is also nicely directed by Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton (Little Miss Sunshine) and shot by Matthew Libatique (Black Swan).
For a film that tries to deconstruct stereotypes, it reverts back to them a bit too often. Bening’s over-the-top New Age-y mom character was painfully unfunny the first time I saw it.
Bening’s a good enough actress to give a bit of depth to her poorly written character, but Kazan is somewhat less successful with her much more challenging role. It seems like Ruby becomes less realistic the more “real” she becomes, becoming even more two-dimensional just as she’s supposed to be adding a third.
The climax, when Ruby learns just what she is, is equally chilling and ridiculous, and your mood going into it is likely to dictate how you view it. In my opinion, if Kazan had a little more practice playing dogs in primary school plays when she was ten, it woulda been perfect.
This movie has a big hook of a premise and does a solid job of delivering on it.
Take a Drink: whenever Calvin acts neurotic
Take a Drink: whenever writing is shown or referred to
Take a Drink: every time Ruby does something precious
Do a Shot: whenever Ruby does something hysterical