Wednesday, 17 October 2012

[Review] Ruby Sparks - Page turner

A novelist struggling with writer's block finds romance in a most unusual way: by creating a female character he thinks will love him, then willing her into existence. 

The 'Manic Pixie Dream Girl' is defined as a bubbly but complicated creature who exists for the sole purpose of expanding the eyes/mind/life of a brooding, equally complicated young writer/hipster. When asked if she would consider Ruby Sparks one of the illusive 'MPDG clique' writer and star (and real life girlfriend to co-star Paul Dano) Zoe Kazan replied with;
I just think the term really means nothing; it’s just a way of reducing people’s individuality down to a type, and I think that’s always a bad thing. And I think that’s part of what the movie is about, how dangerous it is to reduce a person down to an idea of a person.
In some regard she is not wrong, Ruby Sparks is a movie about the dangers of reducing a person to an idea, among other things. However like it's titular character it doesn't embellish any individuality of it's own, it manufactures it, and subsequently slips into the pit falls laid by the Pixies it so carefully tried to avoid.

Paul Dano plays Calvin Weir-Fields, a human checklist of neuroticism and writer struggling to follow up the success of his first novel that led to his status, he imagines himself as a modern day Fitzgerald, although lacking the finesse. His apartment overlooking LA, is what Jonny from Mike Leigh's Naked would have referred to as 'a post-modernist gas chamber,' blank white walls and impersonal furniture, as if the film makers couldn't think of a more natural way to integrate Calvin's indifference. Sometime ago he got a dog which turned out to be as weirdly neurotic as himself, perhaps the whiny self-entitlement is a contagious virus dragging all that associates with him down. 'Girls only want to sleep with me because they read my book in highschool,' he says with the same conviction as if he had just be diagnosed with a terminal disease. Troubled and deep for some, pretentious and shallow for me. One night he has a dream of a beautiful, quirky girl named Ruby, gripped by inspiration he begins to write. That is, until Ruby shows up in his apartment one morning. 

Ruby Sparks is a very impatient film, never comfortable to settle for too long. Racing forward from the moment Calvin realizes his dream girl is indeed real through to the gradual disintegration of the relationship and the eventual explosive melt down. Ultimately meaning that the passage of time has no weight to it, unlike Blue Valentine which shows us the incentive moment before jumping ahead in time leaving the audience to project every argument and quarrel they've experienced themselves in the between. With Ruby, we cannot pass a judgement on this relationship because we are not given the necessary knowledge to do so.

Technically speaking, Ruby is rather accomplished. Dayton makes use of slick compositions, expressive handheld photography and daring close-ups. Even the soundtrack manages to be cut from a different tree than the usual compilation of Regina Spektor, Morrissey and 60s French Pop, bearing in mind it's about two trees over, but it's worth noting.  

Stepping away from the potential slapstick after a few gags, Ruby had promise as a metaphor for the similarities and contrasts between writing and relationships, but that subject is barely touch upon. Instead, we are left with a rather unenlightening drama about two non-people warning against the dangers of smothering your other half without an alternative outlet. Calvin is an insufferable, whiny, self-obsessed creeper with virtually no redeeming features to his character. Ruby could have been a subversive riff on the 'Manic Pixie Dream Girl' character, she is after all invented for the male protagonist like other MPDGs but eventually discovers her own interests and space. However those interests aren't part of her own growth, they are merely a plot device, ultimately rendering her rather hollow.

All of this would have been completely unwatchable, had it not been for the film's two leads - Dano and Kazan do their best to sell the rather lifeless script. As a real life couple, their interactions feel genuine and the film climaxes in a disturbing sequence as Calvin demonstrates his control over Ruby by forcing her to woo him in a contorted, twisted serenade. But this is far to serious for it's own good, making the film feel overburdened by it's own message. A message which is refuted by the films tacked on ending, which feels horribly contrived even compared to (500) Days of Summer. Has anybody learnt anything? No, is the answer. Are they doomed to repeat the same mistakes again? Most certainly, a yes.

Like it's protagonist Calvin, Ruby Sparks is an obnoxious, self-important movie that believes it's celebrating individuality. Instead it offers up a bland deconstruction of a relationship between two horrible and rather pointless characters. Sparks may fly, but there is no burn.


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