★ ★ ★ ★
Starring Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Chris Messina, Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas. Written by Zoe Kazan. Directed by Jonathon Dayton and Valerie Faris. Produced by Albert Berger, Bart Lipton, Chuck Ryant and Ron Yerxa.
If you've seen the previews, you're probably expecting Ruby Sparks to be the perfect indie date movie, and in many ways it is – the premise of a novelist writing his ideal girlfriend into existence is romantic in its own offbeat sort of way. It isn't until you take a closer look and really consider the characters and relationships represented in the film that you realize there's a great deal of substance underneath its predictable plot. Themes of love and acceptance are accompanied by themes of gender, power and morality, making it edgier than your typical date movie.
It's Faris and Dayton's ability to make something outside the realm of reality feel so believable and down to earth that gives this movie a refreshing tone. What begins as quirky and imaginative quickly turns dark and degraded when Calvin the novelist (Dano) begins to abuse his power as the creator of Ruby (Kazan) and continuously molds her into his image of what she "should" be, which can be construed as a bold statement on the expectations placed on romance today and women in general. As things become progressively dysfunctional in their relationship, Calvin is forced into recognizing his own self-destructive behavior. His internal conflict is well-developed, adding another dimension and giving the film depth. The film is no longer simply about love or the male and female perspective, it's about self-deception, and the ability to overcome your faults and accept people for who they truly are.
Previously cast in serious supporting roles, Dano steps out of his comfort zone and takes the lead as a neurotic straight man which he seems naturally fit to play. His comic timing is on point and works especially well with the interaction between him and Messina, who plays his hilariously meddlesome brother. In fact, there's a great cast with Banderas and Bening in supporting roles as Calvin's bohemian parents, and the bizarre combination of characters makes for great chemistry and a well-rounded story that covers new territory and stretches the limits of the genre, proving that it's still possible for romantic comedies to have substance as well as step outside of formulaic writing.