“Ruby Sparks” may sound like the ultimate male fantasy, but it’s a romantic comedy that works thanks to a woman’s touch.
Written by and starring Zoe Kazan, this is a film that takes what could have been a predictably gimmicky premise and evolves into something with a few surprises. Sure, it has some flaws, but Kazan’s smile goes a long way toward helping overlook those moments.
“Ruby Sparks” stars Paul Dano as Calvin, a writer suffering from writer’s block after his first novel makes him an overnight success.
Writer’s block isn’t Calvin’s only problem. He’s also unable to maintain a steady relationship, partly because of his neurotic behavior.
When his therapist suggests that he work on his two problems by writing down his dream girl, said girl appears in the form of Ruby Sparks (Kazan).
At first Calvin thinks he is crazy, but when he realizes that Ruby is in fact a real-life person he has created – and is capable of shaping by writing about her – he begins a relationship that is beyond his imagination.
The newfound joy isn’t without its consequences, as Ruby becomes more difficult to control with each passing day.
“Ruby Sparks” is a film that could have easily turned on itself and evolved into a self-aware piece of work, but Kazan does a nice job of keeping it all from spiraling out of control.
It helps that Kazan the actress is the perfect choice as Ruby – with a vibrant personality that practically leaps off the screen. Ruby is a really interesting character, with depth that a lot of female characters lack in today’s movies. I realized as the film progressed that I really grew to care about what happened to her, even as “Ruby Sparks” started to stall trying to create the typical romantic roadblocks for its two leads.
The movie gets a nice jolt from supporting work by Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas – as Calvin’s hippie mother and stepfather. Chris Messina is good as Calvin’s brother.
Dano is also fine, even if it seems like he’s just playing the same type of character he has played in films like “The Best Man.”
But “Ruby Sparks” gets its spark from Kazan. After being mostly a bit player in a handful of films, the 29-year-old actress shows she is more than capable of stepping into lead roles. She’s also not too bad at screenwriting as well.
DVD dandy of the week
This week’s dandy is “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” (B), a delightful British film with a fantastic cast and a story that goes in some unexpected places. I found it quite entertaining.
“Hotel” is an ensemble piece with seven British retirees traveling to India to stay in a luxurious hotel. The group includes a recently widowed housewife of 40 years (Judi Dench), a judge with a secret reason for coming to India (Tom Wilkinson), a longtime married couple in a rut (Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton) and a longtime nanny in India for hip surgery (Maggie Smith).
They arrive at the hotel to discover less-than-ideal conditions and a hotel owner (Dev Patel) dealing with relationship issues of his own.
“Hotel” begins as a rather light and fluffy fish out of water tale, but slowly evolves into something deeper. I kept thinking as the story unfolded that this would make a great book and sure enough this is an adaptation of a novel by Deborah Moggach. This is a film that isn’t about the wacky adventures of an elderly group at a broken-down hotel, this is the story of seven people looking to write a final positive chapter of their lives.
The talented cast also adds depth to the story, especially Dench and Wilkinson, who get the strongest story arcs. Smith is also very good, with her story going in a pleasantly unexpected direction.
I think “Hotel” could have trimmed the ensemble down maybe a character or two, and perhaps given Patel’s storyline a little more of a punch, but for the most part it was easy to forgive “Hotel” for its shortcomings. This is a warm and breezy two hours of escapism that is worth seeking out.
“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is rated PG-13 for sexual content and language and will be available Tuesday on DVD.