Recently there’s been a literary trend in film and TV to portray quirky and somewhat broken women as the ideal partner in a relationship. I partially blame (500) Days of Summer for it. Like that movie, Ruby Sparks has something interesting to say about this cultural ideal and the men who write it in their minds. The ideal is only ideal in theory and never in practice. Calvin (Paul Dano) a young novelist from Los Angeles stumbles upon this truth by writing his ideal quirky girlfriend and having her appear in flesh and blood, and living in his apartment.
Calvin wrote a novel in his late teens that was treasured by most Twilight-fans, but was considered better literature and actually respected in literary circles. He lives an comfortable life out of royalties but has never had friend, let alone real relationship, outside the one he has with his brother. Ten years later he still hasn’t written a second novel and has begun to visit a shrink (Elliot Gould) to help him with his writer’s block. The shrink gives him a simple assignment “write about a person who would like your dog”. Calvin gives it a try, and writes about the only woman he thinks would like his pathetic terrier. Lo-and-behold two days later the woman Calvin wrote about, Ruby (Zoe Kazan), appears in his apartment claiming to have been in a relationship with him for months.
Ruby is the ideal romantic parter - for those who like the quirky broken type - and is permanently backlit. For Calvin, who knows nothing about women despite having written a romantic bestseller, this is too good to be real. His brother, Harry (Chris Messina), encourages Calvin to write more, “for the sake of all men out there”. After all, what type of man who can control a woman through his writing wouldn’t want to do so.
It turns out that being able to control the woman takes out all the fun out of the relationship. After all you can’t tango with a puppet. And the more Calvin writes and modifies Ruby the more one dimensional her character gets - to the point where Ruby only has one constant mood.
The plot really doesn’t go much further. There are brief cameos by Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas as Calvin’s zen mother and step-father and by Steve Coogan - who is always a pleasure to see in these indy films - as his literary agent. They all add flavor to the film, but are pretty much there so the filmmakers have something to do with Calvin and Ruby, who would otherwise just hang at his apartment.
The premise is intriguing, but the execution is somewhat lacking. Yet overall it is a good exercise to showcase Zoe Kazan’s talents as both an actress and a writer. The process of rewriting is clearly a theme - perhaps a tad too obvious - as well a general observation on how relationships influence people. Calvin can directly re-write Ruby, but a parallel transformation is seen in his mom, who went from polo-wearing tennis fan while being married to his father, to hippie treehugger after meeting Antonio Banderas.