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Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris' follow-up to Little Miss Sunshine is a breezy, ditzy mess....
Fox / 105 Minutes / 2012 / Rated R / Street Date: October 30, 2012
In a mumblecore Weird Science moment a while into Ruby Sparks, Calvin Weird-Fields (Paul Dano) dreams up the perfect woman. Literally - the lady simply appears out of nowhere. See, Calvin is a prodigy of sorts, a writer who published a wildfire-popular novel before he was 20, but in the decade since has been battling a particularly heady case of writer's block. Until one day, his shrink (Elliott Gould - a wonderful surprise) orders the whimpering Calvin to write about 'the perfect girl', and somehow Calvin touches his source and bests his blockage.
And then said perfectness - played by Zoe Kazan - becomes a part of Calvin's life. All the issues and hangups and disillusions the guy has about the fairer sex are tossed, instead replaced by Ruby's giggly charms. His brother Harry (Chris Messina) loves her, her mom and stepdad (Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas) are quirky yet manageable: it seems as though via Ruby, Calvin has taken out a new lease on life. And then he starts to question everything.
There are shades of Little Miss Sunshine around every corner in Ruby Sparks - it is, after all, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris' follow-up to that Oscar winner - but whimsy and whiny can be incongruous bedfellows, and one gets mistaken for the other commonly in this minor film. We root for Calvin to beat his demons, to face his preconceptions of himself head-on in an attempt to evolve out of his personal and artistic ruts, but Ruby Sparks is precocious and ironic to a fault: there's a fun little world to spelunk here, but it gets old fast.
Ruby Sparks came and went this summer, and after experiencing the movie on Blu-ray, it's unfortunately easy to understand why. Its grade-A star pedigree is nothing if not impressive, but Ruby Sparks is surface-level all the way. Zoe Kazan's script investigates archetypes that it wants to subvert and play with a bit, but she - and the end result film - never go all the way with it.