A romantic comedy with a dark twist, this film gets under the skin as it knowingly explores both the writing process and the nature of relationships. It also gives its cast a lot to play with in scenes that feature both broad slapstick and much more serious drama.
Paul Dano stars as Calvin, a writer who struck lightning with his first novel at age 19 and hasn't been able to write anything since. His brother (Messina) teases him about his future, his agent (Mandvi) is pushing him to write a new novel, and his therapist (Gould) just wants him to write something, anything. So he starts typing up a story about the girl (Kazan) who appears in his dreams. Then there she is, Ruby Sparks, in his kitchen! Sure he's officially losing his mind, he's shocked to discover that others can see her too. So he brings her into his life as his girlfriend, even introducing her to his hippie mother and stepdad (Benning and Banderas).
The film starts out as a breezy comedy, and Dano plays these scenes for laughs, including several broadly silly set-pieces as Calvin first meets Ruby. But the undertone very quickly starts turning serious, as we begin to understand the central themes about how we relate to our partners. Would we control their behaviour if we could? Get rid of annoying habits? Make them be more like our idea of the perfect spouse? But of course, that would cause a whole new set of problems.
Dano is excellent in this leading-man role, getting the balance just right as a guy who hasn't quite grown up. His charming, offhanded awkwardness has never been quite this endearing. And while Kazan (Dano's real-life partner) is sometimes a bit too wacky as Ruby, her chemistry with Dano is sparky and surprising. Messina adds another layer of interest as the only person in on Calvin's secret, a lively guy with problems of his own. And Banderas and Bening are very funny in their scenes. As they did in Little Miss Sunshine, directors Dayton and Faris use their eclectic ensemble beautifully to combine quirky comedy with more serious issues while keeping the audience happily engaged.
Run time: 104 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 6th September 2012
Box Office USA: $2.5M
Distributed by: Fox Searchlight
Production compaines: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 79%
Fresh: 133 Rotten: 35
IMDB: 7.2 / 10
Director: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Screenwriter: Zoe Kazan
Starring: Antonio Banderas as Mort, Alia Shawkat as Mabel, Paul Dano as Calvin, Deborah Ann Woll as Lila, Annette Bening as Gertrude, Steve Coogan as Langdon Tharp, Elliott Gould as Dr. Rosenthal, Chris Messina as Harry, Zoe Kazan as Ruby, Aasif Mandvi as Cyrus Modi, Wallace Langham as Warren, Toni Trucks as Susie, Eleanor Seigler as Mandi, John F. Beach as Adam