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Ruby Sparks

A quirky rom-com that also offers a mild critique of the quirky rom-come genre

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It's a story as old as the Pygmalion myth, lonely men who find female companions by creating them in art and somehow magically bringing them to life. In this quirky rom-com, Calvin (Paul Dano) is a thirtysomething novelist, living on fumes from his break-out book a decade earlier and crippled by writer's block. Inspired by a dream, he hits his typewriter to describe his ideal girlfriend ... and is stunned to find her making breakfast in his house. Ruby (Zoe Kazan) is quite naturally everything he wants in a woman, and if not, he writes a few more lines to make her that way. It all seems like the most awesome relationship ever ... until it isn't.

On one level, Ruby Sparks, written by Kazan and directed by the Little Miss Sunshine team of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, satisfies all the requirements of the indie rom-com genre, from its imperfectly adorable stars enjoying goofy dates and the discovery-conflict-resolution set-up to its use of old pros in supporting roles (Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas are Calvin's significantly less-uptight parents). It also gets in a few amusing digs about the cult of the young novelists.

But beneath the froth, there's a couple of twisty meta-texts about the role of the creator and, more specifically, contemporary cinema's obsession with the so-called Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She's the gorgeous, flighty, barely employed, vintage-garbed sprite seemingly at the heart of every rom-com told from the male perspective. Ruby turns this convention inside out, by first showing us its literal construction, and then depicting how the manufactured pixie dust loses its allure. It's an interesting gambit, though at times, I found the execution of these scenes — part narrative we're committed to and part critique of said narrative — a bit choppy. 

Dano and Kazan, though, work hard to sell the premise, and there's ultimately a lot of sweet charm in Ruby Sparks. I'm not entirely sure it effectively dismantles the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but at least it calls some bullshit on the trope.

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