Ruby Sparks

HANNAH QUINN can’t see the appeal of a fifties typewriter, but loves a good montage.

Catcher in the Rye Paul Dano Pygmalion ruby Ruby Sparks Sparks Steve Coogan Zoe Kazan

What would you do if your imaginary girlfriend suddenly materialised and started cooking you eggs?

That’s the premise of this not quite rom-com from writer Zoe Kazan, also starring as the eponymous Ruby. A sort of modern-day Pygmalion, Ruby Sparks tells the story of Calvin, whose typewriter and well-thumbed copy of Catcher in the Rye soon reveal his Serious Writer credentials.

Unfortunately, Calvin can’t get a girlfriend – for reasons, I’m sure, that have nothing to do with his insistence on using typing equipment from the fifties and his penchant for books about whiny teenagers. On the suggestion of his therapist, he starts writing about Ruby Sparks, the girl of his dreams, who promptly appears and cooks the aforementioned eggs.

Whatever he writes about Ruby comes true: he has total control over her looks, her personality, her entire life. Indeed, it’s when we realise just how incredibly creepy that is that the film reaches its moments of brilliance.

First though, we have to sit back and watch it muddle through the obligatory comedic situations and, in the process, tripping its feet over just about every cliché in the book. They’re all there: the embarrassing parents, the therapist, the sleazy agent (played by Steve Coogan in fine sleazing form). It’s only thanks to the wonderful chemistry between Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan as Calvin and Ruby that this film manages to keep going.

And keep going it does – light on the laughs but heavy on the quirky charm. That’s not to say it isn’t enjoyable. There were, for example, some rather good montage sections (happily, my main viewing prerequisite post-Olympics). But it’s also a bit predictable and not nearly as clever as it likes to think.

The real strength of Ruby Sparks is in its two main characters. Paul Dano’s performance especially stands out as he treads the fine line between sweet, lonely artist, and utter tosser – all without losing my sympathy. It would have been easy for me to really hate Calvin (after all, he uses a typewriter) but Dano, with the help of Kazan’s script, manages to invest the character with a degree of humanity that kept me invested.

Elsewhere in the film, Ruby’s development from a two dimensional Zooey Deschanel-esque sketch into a real person is great – as is Calvin’s refusal to accept it – and the dramatic climax it all builds up to is one of the most chilling moments I’ve seen all year: an excellent and unexpected payoff to a film which at times was just plain forgettable.

My overall impression of Ruby Sparks was of unfulfilled potential. Sometimes it’s a silly, charming rom-com, sometimes it’s trying to make a grand point about the nature of fiction, and sometimes it stumbles self-consciously into Important Lessons About Life territory. But, occasionally, there’s a glimpse of something a bit less rom, a bit less com, and a whole lot more interesting.

As a sweet rom-com with a bit of an edge, Ruby Sparks is worth seeing. I just can’t shake the feeling it could have been so much more.