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Calvin is a young novelist who achieved phenomenal success early in his career but is now struggling with his writing – as well as his romantic life. Finally, he makes a breakthrough and creates a character named Ruby who inspires him. When Calvin finds Ruby, in the flesh, sitting on his couch about a week later, he is completely flabbergasted that his words have turned into a living, breathing person.
For more about Ruby Sparks and the Ruby Sparks Blu-ray release, see Ruby Sparks Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on October 31, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Zoe Kazan, Paul Dano, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, Chris Messina, Aasif Mandvi
Directors: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
» See full cast & crew
Ruby Sparks Blu-ray Review
"Quirky, messy women whose problems only make them endearing are not real."
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, October 31, 2012
Think Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot. Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's. Hell, Zooey Deschanel in everything she's ever been in. The archetype has always existed in film—and literature before that—but it wasn't given a name that stuck until film critic Nathan Rabin referred to Kirstin Dunst's character in Elizabethtown as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, "that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures."
It's an essentially pejorative term, and it should be, as it describes female characters who are developed only to the extent of "completing," and fulfilling the fantasies of, their male counterparts. MPDGs are the prime example of male-centric Hollywood—and culture at large—not knowing how to write about or relate to women. And at first, the titular redhead in Ruby Sparks seems to be one. Played by the adorkable Zoe Kazan— who also wrote the film's script—Ruby is an ethereal presence quite literally conjured out of the imagination of a depressed writer, who begins a story about his ideal girl and finds that she's somehow been physically manifested in the real world. Kazan flips the trope on its pretty little head, however, using the film—which is part satire, part sentimental love story—to comment on the ways in which we try in vain to control our significant others and mold them into the people we'd like them to be.
Like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and (500) Days of Summer, Ruby Sparks is a high-concept deconstruction of a couple's demise. (Minus the light sci-fi of the former and the non-linear jumpiness of the latter.) Kazan and directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris —the team behind Little Miss Sunshine—quickly take us into the realm of magical realism, with a premise that requires some serious suspension of disbelief. Paul Dano plays the nebbish Calvin Weir-Fields, a literary wunderkind who published a best-selling novel at nineteen and has been struggling for the past ten years to follow up on his early success. His royalties are obviously providing for him—he lives in a sleekly modernist house in the Los Angeles hills—but he's creatively frozen and wracked by self-defeating neuroses. He stares blankly at the empty sheet of paper in his typewriter every morning. He's wary of "girls who only want to sleep with me because they read my book in high school." He's embarrassed that his dog, Scotty, "pees like a girl."
In a bid to get him un-stuck, Calvin's therapist (Elliott Gould) orders him to write a single page about a woman who takes an interest in Scotty—the dog is obviously a surrogate for Calvin's feelings about himself—and this sends the erstwhile novelist into a binge-writing reverie, cranking out a story about his fictional perfect girl: Ruby Sparks. She's a 26-year-old painter from Dayton, Ohio. She "doesn't own a computer" and always "roots for the underdog." She's "not good at life" and sometimes "forgets to open bills and cash checks." She's a dream. And suddenly, she's real, fixing eggs one morning in his kitchen as he comes downstairs after a long night of pounding out words.
The film asks you to swallow this no-questions-asked. Any speculation that Calvin might simply be going crazy—which is what he himself thinks at first —is dismissed when his brother, Harry (Chris Messina), comes over to meet her. Ruby is flesh-and-blood existent, and what's weirder, whatever Calvin choses to write about her comes true. "For men everywhere," his brother pleads, "tell me you're not going to let that go to waste." But Calvin doesn't want to change anything. Initially, anyway. The two are madly in love—we get a lengthy montage of their honeymoon phase—but normalcy inevitably settles in, Calvin grows discontent, and the temptation to alter Ruby's personality grows too great. The consequences, as you might imagine, are disastrous. Tweaking Ruby's personality is like mixing chemicals in a laboratory by guesswork, and of course it all blows up in Calvin's face.
The couple's troubles are alternately quelled and exacerbated by the antics of a wonderful ensemble cast. Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas play Calvin's hippy mom and step-dad. Steve Coogan is characteristically dry as a scumbag literary agent. Arrested Development's Alia Shawkat even shows up as an obsessive fan, keen to be a character in Calvin's next novel. The most gripping performances, though, come from the leads. Dano and Kazan have been a real-life couple for several years, so it's no surprise that they work wonderfully with one another, convincingly taking us through every stage of their characters' relationship. The There Will Be Blood co-star might be treading dramatic water here—he played a very similar failed writer in 2010's The Extra Man—but he's always good in these troubled, insecure wallflower parts. As for Zoe—the granddaughter of the legendary On the Waterfront director, Elia Kazan—she really comes into her own as Ruby after a career in smaller, ancillary roles, like her turn in Meek's Cutoff.
Writing yourself as someone's idea of a perfect girl is a tricky proposition—the idea screams vanity project—but Kazan handles it gracefully and subversively. It's easy to read Ruby Sparks as a reaction against female typecasting and poorly written I'm only here to teach the guy a valuable life lesson parts. This is a film that sees the very concept of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl as almost offensively reductive—yet another way for women to be defined, used, and controlled—and in deconstructing the stereotype, it tells a cautionary tale about how we all mentally create impossibly idealized versions of those we love. But let's not get too high-minded here, because Ruby Sparks doesn't have any grand pretensions. At its heart, this is simply a charmingly strange love story. If a bit too precious at times, and arguably too tidily ended, it's funny and honest and insightful—which is more than you can say for most rom-coms these days.
Ruby Sparks Blu-ray, Video Quality
Ruby Sparks suddenly appears on Blu-ray with a lovable 1080p/AVC-encoded presentation. The film was shot digitally—using Arri Alexa high definition video cameras—but it has a very filmic look. So much so, in fact, that while I was watching it, and before I had checked the tech specs online, I assumed I was viewing a 35mm image. There's a fine patina of what looks a lot like grain over the picture—it doesn't have the harsher, speckled quality of digital source noise—and while I'm not sure if this was added in post or what, it looks natural and suits the mood of the movie well. The image on the whole is nicely refined, with excellent clarity—closeups are particularly impressive, revealing skin and clothing textures—and no apparent compression or filtering issues. The color palette is great too; it's generally realistic but slightly romanticized with creamy, softened highlights and carefully chosen hues. (I love all the muted whites and grays in Calvin's house.) Skin tones seem accurate, black levels are deep without endangering shadow detail, and contrast is right where it needs to be. No real problems here whatsoever.
Ruby Sparks Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The film's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is—like a lot of indie rom-com/dramas—a mostly quiet, low-key, dialogue-driven experience. You'll notice some occasional ambience from the rear speakers—gym noise, club chatter, insects and wind—but precious few directional effects. The surround channels are mostly used to augment what's coming from the front, namely, DeVotchKa-member Nick Urata's emotionally potent score, which sounds fantastic during the moments when it gets a chance to really swell. Dialogue is the focus here, and it's always cleanly recorded, well balanced, and easily understood. The disc also includes a number of dub and subtitle options; see above for details.
Ruby Sparks Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Ruby Spark' supplementary materials are unfortunately limited to a series of short and mostly fluffy EPK-style pieces, with some behind-the- scenes footage and quick interviews with the cast and crew, who discuss the story, the casting, and the themes at play in the film. An audio commentary with Kazan and the directors would've been nice, but alas. If you're looking for particulars, this is what you'll find on the disc:
Ruby Sparks Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Ruby Sparks will definitely appeal to fans of Eternal Sunshine and (500) Days of Summer; it has that same audience-friendly amalgam of high-concept premise, bittersweet romance, and surprising optimism. Writer/co-star Zoe Kazan and her real-life boyfriend Paul Dano make a nerdy indie-cute couple, and it's a pleasure watching them onscreen together in a rom-com that doesn't insult its viewers' emotional intelligence. Though short on substantive special features, the film makes a strong showing on Blu-ray and would make a fine choice for a movie night in with your S.O. Recommended!
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Ruby Sparks Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Ruby Sparks Blu-ray - September 11, 2012
Fox Searchlight Home Video has officially announced and detailed its upcoming Blu-ray release of directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris' Ruby Sparks (2012), starring Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan. The release will be available for purchase on October 30th.
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