Dreams come true in Ruby Sparks, the often brilliant romantic-comedy-fantasy from the filmmaking team behind Little Miss Sunshine. But in a project favored with a surfeit of talent, it is 29-year-old Zoe Kazan who stands out, not only for her highly imaginative script but also for her energetic performance. She would have made her grandfather proud.
Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton directed, adding many small yet nuanced touches that elevate an already witty premise. It earns high marks for its originality, but Ruby Sparks also works on many levels, examining such weighty subjects as free will, neglect, abandonment and, of course, dream fulfillment.
The film rests on a fantastical idea, but unlike many overwrought films that fall apart under scrutiny, Ruby hangs in until the end, drawing in its audience while love blossoms just as surely as in a P.G. Wodehouse novel. Cast and crew combine to somehow ground their film, making it, if not believable, accessible and consistently charming.
Paul Dano plays Calvin, a 29-year-old who wrote a blockbuster novel at age 19 but has struggled with writer’s block ever since. One night he has a dream about a woman. Later, after another dream, he commits her to paper, giving her a name, Ruby Sparks, a personality and a complete back story. Before he realizes what has happened, Ruby Sparks (Kazan) appears in the flesh and becomes a part of his life.
From there, the film’s first half deals with verifying Ruby’s existence to others, including Calvin’s brother (Chris Messina), their New Age mother (Annette Bening) and her spacey boyfriend (Antonio Banderas).
But Ruby is real, meaning she has moods, quirks and every other little trait that can cause trouble in a relationship. So, Calvin tweaks his writing, trying over and over again to find the right balance in his flesh-and-blood fantasy.
Faris and Dayton play it straight, allowing for no mugging or special-effects computer wizardry. They rely on the story and everyone’s straight-faced acceptance of Ruby. This approach allows for greater comedic effect when needed. At times, the story may strain, but in a film based on such a wild thought, the creaks are minimal.
Dano looks pained for most of the film, while Kazan changes constantly, delivering a wide-ranging performance to complement the able assistance of a polished supporting cast, including underappreciated comic talents Steve Coogan and Aasif Mandvi.
Rated R, 104 minutes.
Opens Friday at the Magnolia in Dallas and Cinemark West Plano.