D: Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris. DP: Matthew Libatique. W: Zoe Kazan. Starring: Paul Dano/Zoe Kazan/Annette Bening/Antonio Banderas/Chris Messina/Steve Coogan/Elliot Gould/Toni Trucks/Deborah Ann Woll/Alia Shawkat.
Amidst the big action and comic book films of the summer, a few films are hopefully reminding audiences of young, smart talent coming through the wood works. Ruby Sparks, a new film written and starring twenty-something Yale graduate, Zoe Kazan, is one of those. All I can do is pray to my cinematic deities that not everyone misses out on this little gem.
Set in the more charming (and you have to work hard for this) parts of Los Angeles, Ruby Sparks delves into the mind of young writer, Calvin Weir-fields (Paul Dano). Dano’s Calvin, a high school dropout and over night sensation with his first novel, now struggles with following up that book, his success, and the ultimate fear for any novelist, writer’s block. Dano’s wiry physique and owl-like stillness work wonders here as he begins to dream of a girl, writes her down, and then comes home one day to find her living in his apartment. Without giving anything away, Dano’s mere reactions and playing out of that sequence merits true accolades (and laughter).
His major scene partner is found in (real life girlfriend) screen writer Kazan, who plays Ruby. Kazan’s long read hair and borderline gangly body work to give her Ruby a sort of ethereal quality. She will remind some of a wood nymph, with an almost childlike look and wonder at the world and Dano. Their chemistry is clear and thankfully Kazan’s script deals as much with the “is Ruby real” question as the “are we happy in this relationship” and “how do you make that relationship work?” Dano’s other screen partner is Chris Messina as his older brother, Harry. Messina’s character not only gives Dano a familial anchor, but also a empathetic voice of reason. Full of warmth and with his own twinkle in his eye, Messina remains memorable and well cast.
Stealing a few scenes is Annette Bening as Dano and Messina’s mother and Antonio Banderas as her new age sculptor boyfriend. But ultimately the credit must be given to Kazan’s tight writing and Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Davis’ work as co-directors. This husband and wife team is also responsible for directing 2006’s Little Miss Sunshine. They are clear and concise here with Kazan’s story. Nothing feels too long or labored, which thankfully allows the film to be more about the relationships and Dano’s journey than answering any big logistical questions. The only thing working against the film is it’s sort of hipster, adorkable quality that could annoy some audiences members. But hey, at least you’ll leave with a smile on your face.