In Ruby Sparks, the second feature from the directors of Little Miss Sunshine, doll-faced ingenue Zoe Kazan plays an indie goddess so loopy-sexy-perfect she can’t be real – and as it turns out, she isn’t. The film’s magical-realist twist is that boy doesn’t meet girl, he invents her. Kazan’s angelic waif – a redheaded painter who loves zombie movies and dresses like a New Wave starlet – is born on a blank page. She’s the writing exercise of wunderkind novelist Calvin (Paul Dano, the actress’s actual beau), who concocts this idealised portrait of womanhood as a cure for his creative block. Fiction becomes reality when Ruby – as Calvin’s named her – materialises in his apartment. And disbelief becomes euphoria as the author realises she only has eyes for him.
On paper, Ruby Sparks sounds like a sub – Charlie Kaufman stunt, à la the too-clever-by-half Stranger than Fiction. In reality, it’s a much darker creation, at least for a while. Kazan penned the screenplay; what she’s after is a shrewd critique of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl fantasy – or, rather, the control-freak pathology behind it. As Ruby begins to evolve beyond the personality parameters she’s been assigned, Calvin realizes he can alter her behavior with the simple strike of a key on his typewriter. Dano, in his best performance since There Will Be Blood, offers a bravely unflattering depiction of beta-male possessiveness. You end up wishing the film didn’t let his wordsmith off the hook; what appears at first to be a feminist manifesto instead becomes just another seriocomic portrait of shy-guy growing pains. (500) Days of Ruby might have been a more fitting title. A.A. Dowd