Ruby Sparks (Fox Searchlight): Similar in theme to such movies about writers as Spike Jonze’s Adaptation and Marc Forster’s Stranger Than Fiction, star Zoe Kazan’s script—nominated for an Independent Spirit Award—is about a struggling novelist (played by boyfriend Paul Dano) who creates his own dream girl, and suddenly finds her come to life, Pygmalion-style.
Directed by the husband-wife team of I.R.S. Cutting Edge and music vid alumni Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, their first since Little Miss Sunshine, the bittersweet rom com has plenty in common with Like Crazy, (500) Days of Summer and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, about the many ways in which a seemingly idyllic love affair can go horribly wrong.
The hook this time is that Dano, a onetime prodigy who can’t follow up a precocious, Catcher in the Rye- type debut, writes the title character, who suddenly appears cooking dinner in the kitchen of his rather antiseptic L.A. bachelor pad. When he discovers he can control her by typing on his old-fashioned manual, Dano tries to provide his muse with real feelings and emotions, which backfire when she becomes, in turn, too possessive, too cheerful, too depressed—a neat metaphor for relationship power struggles.
There are nice supporting turns by The Newsroom‘s Chris Messina as Dano’s disbelieving older brother, Stephen Coogan’s preening fellow novelist, Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas as the protagonist’s hippie parents and Elliot Gould as his shrink, whose writing assignment sets the plot in motion. Dano and Kazan fire up some real-life sparks as an onscreen couple, the latter’s outgoing zaniness a perfect counterpoint to the former’s nerdy neuroses.
There’s plenty of commentary about the creative process—how fiction is wrenched from fact—as well as the internal push-pull of romantic entanglements. Strangely, the only thing not really dealt with is sex itself, but then that would probably be a different, randier, movie. Best of all is how Kazan’s screenplay reflects a woman’s view of a man creating an ideal female character, a nifty Pirandellian intermingling of art and life, a rich subtext of mirrors inside mirrors, reflecting our own deep-seated desires right back at us.