Finally, we have a romantic comedy that doesn’t beat it around the bush like a White House secretary during a Q & A period. It has been a while since I have seen a romcom about how your relationship is doomed from the very beginning. It’s refreshing, like slugging down a nice Lager on a hot summer’s day after pulling landscaping duty.
If you enjoyed the films Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, 500 Days of Summer or any film that depicts the ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’, then you are in for quite a ride with this one; a ride of doom. This film is a dark one, a tragic meditation on how the unequal nature of relationships is what dooms them from the start to end. It takes a raw look at human interaction, insecurities, desires, entitlement, and the expectations we all have; or think the world, or another person for that matter, owes us.
For the most part, creative people are usually self-obsessed a*sholes. To be creative, interesting, and entertaining you usually need to step on a few toes and except the fact that you will not be able to please everyone. That’s not our job, to please all. We are not prostitutes of entertainment; we are more like escorts, which is a very big difference. Secondly, can you really ever love someone else? Honestly ask yourself this question without trying to give your brain the charitable Hallmark card answer. Do we just fall in love with the counterfeit version of the other person that we create in our minds? Is love really the process of our ego’s attempt to destroy and naturalize the ego of your object of affection? Who knows really? I don’t have all the answers, just most of them. These are just some of the things that went through my mind when watching this more than mediocre film.
The above is the gist of what I took away from Ruby Sparks, a film none other than by the creators of Little Miss Sunshine. This film follows a pale-faced novelist (Paul Dano) who writes his dream girl (Zoe Kazan) into existence. Paul Dano plays Calvin, a writer who achieved massive literary fame when he was at the tender and confusing age of 17. Now, he is trying to come up with a second book and sophomore hit, but he is creatively blocked. Now, instead of doing what the pro’s do when having writers block (do some drugs, have some mind clearing aggressive sex, go for a drive etc..) Calvin takes a road less traveled and starts to dream of a beautiful, quirky, elfin girl named Ruby. Meanwhile, his cheerful therapist (Elliot Gould) assigns him to write something, even if it’s terrible. (Spoilers ahead)
Calvin begins writing about Ruby, and like the wave of Mickey’s magic wand, she becomes alive, real and is really in love with him. Everything Calvin writes on paper; her character profile, the way she speaks, the cloths she wears, and all her quirks manifests. The film is basically a delicious cocktail of Weird Science mixed with Eternal Sunshine. At first, Calvin thinks he is hallucinating as if he just huffed gasoline out of a Dixie cup, but he soon realizes that the young woman standing in his blandly painted kitchen is real. Not only that, anything he instantly types about her on his type-writer becomes true-at first he swears he would never abuse that power. At first.
The great thing about this film is that it acknowledges how creepy and disturbing this behavior is- especially once Calvin gives into the temptation and starts to change Ruby’s mind for her without her having any means to control it. The middle section of the movie, where Calvin get’s corrupted, is probably the most interesting and memorable part, and will probably make you want to punch your Panasonic Flat screen to make it feel the pain and anger it is bringing before you. Here is where the film clearly strains for the message that loving someone-really loving them-means accepting him or her as an entirely separate person, with thoughts, desires, and ideas. Not someone who is an extension of you, like a Siamese twin or some sort of leach. You can’t just love the idea of someone in your head, and try to force that person to fit that mold. That is borderline insanity.
And the movie does make Calvin’s massive self-absorption an issue — at one point, we meet his only previous girlfriend, who helpfully explains that Calvin only ever saw her as an extension of himself. Meanwhile, Calvin’s brother Harry (Chris Messina) lectures him about how he knows nothing about women, and how he has to actually listen to people occasionally, or at least pretend to pay attention to other human beings.
It was great to see Chris Messina yet again play a sort of jock jerk. He plays the role to a tee. Although in this film he played a more traditional “guy’s guy”. You know, the type that works out often, has some managerial job , and owns three pairs of Dockers: You’re average jagoff. Harry has a cute wife, who rolls her eyes at Calvin’s eccentricity — and during one of the most interesting moments in the movie, Harry confesses that his wife left him briefly, a few years earlier. And since then, he’s known that she could leave again at any time, and that he has to work hard to keep her around. When Harry’s macho facade falls away and he reveals the insecurity and neediness that underlies his relationship with his wife, it’s the sort of emotionally honest moment that stands out, in the midst of immense cuteness. It’s role all to familiar from 28 Hotel Room’s, however, Messina is likeable here.
Anyways, for a while, Calvin and Ruby have a sort of perfect relationship — she’s always at his house, cooking him delicious meals and paying attention to him, and he’s blissed out. And then, of course, like any typical relationship, Calvin and Ruby run into trouble. Ruby wants to meet Calvin’s family, and he finally gives in — but then Ruby gets along too well with Calvin’s mother, who was a traditional housewife when Calvin’s father was alive, but has remarried and become a free spirit. (A transformation that Calvin disapproves of). Worse still, Ruby starts wanting to get out of the house on her own and do her own things, possibly including having her own friends. Soon enough, Calvin is worried he’s losing her.
Traditionally, in this sort of romantic comedy, the man has a kind of secret that he’s keeping from the woman. Like, he can hear her thoughts, or that he enjoy’s putting one dollar bill’s inside of stripper’s G-strings on those night’s he says he’s “working late”. Or he’s secretly the evil bookstore magnate who’s driving her small independent bookstore out of business. And the crux of the movie is when he reveals the secret, or she finds it out on her own, and they can at last have a relationship based on Hollywood’s simulacrum of sincerity.
In Ruby Sparks, though, Calvin’s secret relates to Ruby’s very existence. Her person-hood and what little agency she has depend, to a very large extent, on her not finding out that she sprung from his very own literary noodlings and mental masturbation sessions. This movie’s set-up is incredibly dark, and even though the movie does venture into that darkness as time goes by, it also wants you to invest in Calvin and Ruby’s relationship as something real and possibly even hauntingly beautiful.
I think that the intention of Ruby Spark’s message is that the very enequal nature of relationships is what dooms them. One person in the relationship is always going to have more friends, more money, more hobbies, or the more dominant persona. This all eventually tends to create tension (the bad kind, not the sexual) and resentment. Humans are stupid in this way. We are territorial, and our primitive primal instincts are still very much a part of us today as they were centuries ago.
500 Days of summer seemed somewhat more optimistic than Ruby Sparks. It was trying to more or less to say that a person can find happiness with another person, just that it’s not necessarily fate or anything, and that someone else being your “one”, some sort of manic pixie dream-girl/boy that will make you a complete and happy person (effectively “fixing” you), is more or less a destructive personal fantasy. Frankly speaking, no one really owes us shit nor do we owe anyone else for that matter. Nobody owes us happiness, joy, excitement, money, trips to Tuscany, or cruises filled with the Noro virus and salmonella.