The name inspires life, her red hair and striking blue eyes make her beauty unique, but in the end “Ruby Sparks” is an intriguing specimen that fails to live up to the picture created in your head. Based of the story of “Pygmalion”, where a sculptor’s creation comes to life, “Ruby Sparks” is a well-crafted story, but fails to deliver on its magical premise and instead presents a stoic telling of a relationship doomed to fail.
Calvin (Paul Dano) is suffering from writer’s block, but when he sees a woman in his dreams he becomes inspired and creates Ruby Sparks. He even begins to fall in love with his creation, even though he knows full well she only exists in his head. That is until one morning when she magically appears in his apartment, just as he wrote her and as much in love with him.
What Calvin has a hard time understanding is that when she came to life she become a fully realized individual with her own hidden feelings. It becomes more and more clear to Calvin that he is loosing control of her, and when he writes more to try and draw her back into him, the results don’t work out like he expected them to.
That brief description of the plot unfortunately creates a more interesting image than what actually came together on screen as the finished product, a serviceable romantic dramedy that doesn’t leave a hugely lasting impression. The ups and downs that Calvin and Ruby’s relationship do little to reveal more about the characters than annoyance on Calving’s part that things don’t always go his way, and drive him back to try and change Ruby for his benefit.
There are two moments in the film when the fact that Ruby is an actual person, more developed than what Calvin wrote, come out. One is when Ruby meets Calvin’s family, the other is when Calvin reveals to Ruby that he wrote her and can control her every action. Those two sequences, while vastly different in tone, show Ruby’s personality outside of her relationship with Calvin.
With the family it is how other people can affect her and make her happy, even if Calvin is not. Then the reveal sequence accentuates a point that is hit on earlier in the film that the changes Calvin makes to Ruby are noticeable to her, and they can confuse her and even scare her when she truly can’t explain them.
Unfortunately, Ruby is not the center of the story, Calvin is, and while he realizes what he has done to Ruby and decides to let her go, what has he really learned at the end of the film? He finds Ruby again in a park, not knowing who he is after he erased the past from her memory, but there is nothing that proves that he will find her personality any more endearing now than he did before, because he clearly didn’t love Ruby for the person that she truly was.
Outside of Zoe Kazan, who both wrote the script and gave a spirited performance as Ruby, there is little inspired work on this film. Paul Dano fails to bring out that change in Calvin if it is there at all, though he does play the insecurity of the character well. Oddly enough, despite being a real life couple, the chemistry between Kazan and Dano is somewhat lacking.
Then there is the pair of directors, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. They have gone through a similar absence as Calvin has with his writing, as “Ruby Sparks” is their first film in six years after their debut with “Little Miss Sunshine”. They come back a little rusty as they have a harder time getting two characters fully realized and offering that same unique sensibility then they did in “Little Miss Sunshine”.
“Falling in love is an act of magic.” That is the point that Calvin has seemed to learn by the end of the film. The act of two people able to accept each other, quirks and all, is magic. The same can be said about film. Every little detail from the actors, the script, and the directors coming together is magical when it works. For “Ruby Sparks”, the magic simply failed to be there.