Directors: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
MPAA Rating: R
Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Sly, sweet and imaginative, the romantic fantasy Ruby Sparks creeps up and charms you with smarts, stylish self-confidence and the cinematic equivalent of butterfly kisses. Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine) direct the original screenplay by Zoe Kazan as a kind of sleek, whimsical, fantastical riff on the Pygmalion (and Vertigo) myth.
Floppy-haired, spindly Paul Dano plays a novelist blessed and cursed by having been crowned a genius at 19 with the publication of his first novel. A decade later, he’s virtually friendless, guarded and seeing a shrink (Elliott Gould) about his crippling lack of creative self-confidence. He dreams of a woman out of his fantasies and, while out one day at an impossibly sunlit park walking his dog, named after F. Scott Fitzgerald, he meets the highly unusual, spirited, endearingly quirky Zoe Kazan.
Back home, he writes about her, “creating” her on pages that begin to pile up — and, voila, this perfect woman actually materializes in the flesh in his everyday life. Pecking at his portable typewriter, he finds that he can bend and shape the personality of his dream girl into anything he wants it to be, with results that vary from funny and charming to deeply creepy and unsettling. Of course he falls head over heels for his creation; after all, she's made to order, isn't she?
Before long, he’s trundling her off to Big Sur to meet his freewheeling, hippie mother and her over-hearty artist lover (Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas) and getting very funny romantic advice from his cynical, horndog brother (Chris Messina), whom he lets in on his little secret. But, like Galatea, Kazan’s character grows increasingly restless with being the object of the writer’s unhealthy obsessions. Let’s say no more except that Kazan has written tricky, even provocative roles for herself and real-life partner Dano, both of whom are up for the challenge.
The cinematography by Matthew Libatique, production design by Judy Becker and music by Nick Urata cast just the right spell of hip romance. But Kazan, the granddaughter of Elia Kazan and daughter of screenwriters Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord, is the real headline. Having already distinguished herself on the New York stage and in occasional smaller movie roles, on the basis of Kazan’s work here, on- and off-screen, we have reason to hope for even more wonderful things. In the meantime, the wry, disarming Ruby Sparks will more than tide us over.