The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

September 14, 2012

Film has a spark of truth among the laughs

By Roger Thomas for the SNAP

Friday, September 14, 2012 — For those of you who are old enough to remember the classic television series “M*A*S*H,” I am fond of quoting dialogue from that show. There was an episode during the series’ eighth season that contained a conversation between Margaret Houlihan and Hawkeye Pierce.

The two of them are lamenting the fact that they cannot seem to find a meaningful relationship. Hawkeye, after a moment of thought, finally says, “Maybe you and I are just too choosy. We’re both looking for a custom fit in an off-the-rack world.”

That has always been one of my favorite lines from the series because I think it so accurately describes many people I know, including myself.  

The new romantic comedy “Ruby Sparks” deals with this same dilemma, first in very comical ways and finally in a very serious and emotionally brutal climax, but I will get back to that in a moment.

“Ruby Sparks” is a fantasy film. (Rated R largely because of language.) You must buy into the fantastical premise or the movie will mean nothing to you. Like “The Odd Life of Timothy Green,” which is also still in theaters, “Ruby Sparks” uses an unbelievable story to reveal great essential truths. For “Odd Life” these truths are about parenting; in “Ruby Sparks” these truths concern relationships.

The premise of the story is that a young man has had early success as a writer. In fact he published his first novel at 19. He was greeted with both commercial and critical success that was followed by writer’s block.

The young man, Calvin, tries but he can no longer write. His publisher, his brother, and his counselor all try to inspire and encourage him, but nothing seems to work. Then one day he begins to write about a young woman named Ruby.

The more Calvin writes, the more details he adds, the more real the young woman named “Ruby Sparks” becomes in his mind. Then one day, she appears in his kitchen. Calvin believes at first that he is having a breakdown. He believes he has lost his grasp on reality and is now hallucinating, seeing a character from his writing. Then he discovers that others see her, too. Calvin can control Ruby. He can make her do anything, say anything (in any language), and be whatever he decides he needs her to be. Calvin Weir-Fields can now have, to use Hawkeye’s words, “a custom fit in an off-the-rack world.”

I liked “Ruby Sparks.” I liked the humor of the film. I liked the premise of the film. I liked the pacing of the film and I especially enjoyed the casting of the two leads. Paul Dano continues to pick one compelling project after another: “Little Miss Sunshine,” “There Will Be Blood,” even the strange but fun “Cowboys & Aliens.”

His role in this film seems to be his most mature and yet most desperate. I have not seen as much of the work of Zoe Kazen but her performance as the title character should make her a star. Ruby is beautiful, interesting, passionate and independent, all the things a young man might write about if he were creating his dream girl. Kazen pulls off all of those emotions and much more and ultimately anchors this fantasy in reality.

In the final analysis, it is not the comedy or fantasy that consumes 90 percent of the film that makes it something special. It is the climax and the resolution that happen in the last 15 minutes or so. I was having so much fun with the premise that I had not even stopped to wonder where the film was taking me. The last few minutes are jarring and harsh, not in a violent way, but emotionally. But they are also real, and very, very meaningful.  

“A custom fit in an off-the-rack world” is a fantasy. However, when Calvin says to his brother, “It’s Love. It’s Magic.” I believe that speaks to a reality most of us seek.