Two things that I love are interesting analyses of women in the media and metafiction, and I read about Ruby Sparks and went “oh, that’s going to be an interesting analysis of women in the media with shades of metafiction, huh?” And I’m really glad to report that it fulfilled both of those things.
For those of you who don’t know (which I’m guessing is a lot of people, since this movie didn’t get a whole ton of press I don’t think – I mean, it’s been open for only two weeks, I think, and in my town it’s already playing at exactly one theater exactly one time a day, which is kind of weird in and of itself) this is a movie about Calvin (Paul Dano), a writer, who starts writing about Ruby (Zoe Kazan, who also wrote the film; she and Dano are also dating IRL), who is a manic pixie dream girl in the truest sense. Ruby then inexplicably comes to life, and as she becomes a person, Calvin has to deal with the separation of his ideal and that reality.
From the New York Times: “‘I think I was writing in reaction to a lot of fictional female characters that have been on screen the last few years,’ Ms. Kazan said, ‘just feeling like there’s a diminutive ideal of a girl that’s just one shade away from being true.’”
To which I say brava.
Without spoiling, here is a list of things this movie did right.
- While Ruby started as the manic pixie dream girl, as per that was Calvin’s ideal, she naturally evolved into a very real character with flaws and strengths that didn’t feel too cliche.
- The only character who read what Calvin had written about Ruby before she came alive, his brother Harry (Chris Messina), was in some ways a definite dude (he was all “hey Calvin, get laid, work out at the gym!”) but still pointed out to Calvin after this reading that Ruby wasn’t a person on the page. She wasn’t dimensional. (Later post-inexplicable-appearance discussions were a little stranger, but they were also, whether or not it’s good, probably fairly realistic, and they did look at both sides of the situation pretty decently.)
- Oh hey, lady screenwriter/actress person! I’d never before seen Zoe Kazan in anything, but I liked her as a writer and as an actress quite a lot.
- Paul Dano was the kind of guy that you feel sort of sympathetic toward at first, but by the end, when he was being a douche, I felt like the story was definitely acknowledging that he’d been a douche.
- Very interesting metafictional moral lines at play! It should be no surprise that I’m all over the moral grayness of what you do with a made-up person you can control via a typewriter.
- Also there were some moments I had uncomfortable thoughts about the philosophy associated with a writer’s lifestyle, but good uncomfortable. I like being made to think.
- The characters were allowed to learn and grow and not just in the way of “oh, I learned a lesson, now I’m going to go back to exactly how I was before.” There was proper self-discovery and also discovery of how you behave like a respectful human being to other human beings. Which is pretty awesome.
- And the learning and growing was for Calvin and Ruby. They facilitated journeys for each other.
- And I love up-in-the-air, intentionally vague endings. I could have been happy with a different one, but I think that there was learning and growing, so I will allow that it wasn’t full of possibilities for bad.
- Also, supporting cast, let’s talk about characters with only a scene or two. Calvin’s mom Gertrude (Annette Bening) and her boyfriend Mort (Antonio Banderas), who were not caricatures! Calvin’s writer friend Langdon (Steve Coogan), who was kind of a douche but still not a caricature of one! Literary fangirl Mabel (Alia Shawkat, whose face I adore), who was not really a caricature even if she was only there to serve a purpose! Calvin’s ex Lila (Deborah Ann Woll, whose face I obviously adore), who served a very distinct purpose and hey, guess what, wasn’t a caricature!
In short: good job, everyone.
–your fangirl heroine.