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Nordling Says RUBY SPARKS Is Good And Quirky!

Nordling here.

Romantic comedies aren't easy to make work.  Frankly, most are written by screenwriters who don't know what they're talking about when it comes to women and relationships, or at least, are unsuccessful in putting what they know onto the page.  So there are about a million of them that have absolutely no basis in reality, and it's the rare one, like ANNIE HALL, that comes across as genuine.

RUBY SPARKS is nowhere near ANNIE HALL's league, but at least it's aware of its limitations and feels written with a purpose.  Instead of painting a portrait of a real woman with real problems, RUBY SPARKS becomes more of a metaphor for men's views on women and relationships.  After all, the title character is simply a construct in the mind of Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano), a once-successful writer in a bit of a slump, relationship-wise as well as career-wise.  His first novel is still beloved by many, but he can't seem to follow up, and his many visits to his psychiatrist (Elliott Gould) can't seem to put him in a better place.

As an exercise, Dr. Rosenthal tells Calvin to write about his version of the ideal woman, and so Calvin gets to writing... and can't seem to stop.  He fills pages with his idea of the perfect woman - Ruby Sparks, who is quirky, beautiful, loyal, and full of life.  So when Ruby (Zoe Kazan) shows up in Calvin's apartment, unaware that she is a fictional character, behaving as if she's been a part of his life, Calvin isn't sure if she's the real thing or if he's having a psychotic break.  But when she interacts with the outside world, Calvin realizes that he may have well created his perfect woman.  His brother Harry (Chris Messina) is convinced that Calvin has gone off the deep end, until he meets her in reality.

The problem is that Ruby's a real person now, and not just some ideal, and when she starts behaving like one, Calvin can't cope.  Should he go back to the page and make Ruby the way he wants her to be?  Or should he allow her to exist as she is, a real person with all the conflicts, quirks, wishes and dreams that real people have, even if those dreams aren't the same as his?

Much of RUBY SPARKS is funny and charming, even if it feels like it forces its hand at times.  Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris are very familiar with quirk, considering they directed LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE.  Zoe Kazan, who also wrote the screenplay, is wonderful as Ruby - she's definitely making a statement with this movie about the temptations of fantasy versus stark reality when it comes to relationships.  Still, there are times that the script feels, for lack of a better word, hipster.  It's very quirky and sometimes too cute, especially when we meet Calvin and Harry's parents, played by Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas as aging hippie-types who smoke weed all day when they aren't painting or building weird furniture. 

Much of the movie struck me as full of "first world problems" - Calvin is quite well off, and his problems probably don't compare with real people struggling to make ends meet, but Paul Dano is very good regardless as the writer who can't seem to figure relationships out.  He's had them before, of course, but they all ended badly, because the woman never quite added up of what he wanted that woman to be.  So when Ruby comes along, the perfect woman for him, it's funny to watch him cope as she gradually comes out of his idyllic view and into a living, breathing person.

RUBY SPARKS acknowledges that relationships are about what each person brings into them, and not about what one person wants the other to be.  Ruby doesn't fit in the box that Calvin's built for her, and in one very good sequence, Calvin tries, with his writing, to force her into that box.  It's the best scene in the movie, at times hilarious, a little scary, and ultimately very illuminating and moving.  There aren't many romantic comedies that are willing to pull aside the curtain and show the less savory aspects of relationships - most are surface gloss.  And while RUBY SPARKS doesn't quite hit the goals it sets up for itself, it's still an enjoyable, bright movie.

Nordling, out.  Follow me on Twitter!

Readers Talkback
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  • Aug. 3, 2012, 12:22 p.m. CST

    Oh good, I was worried

    by martinprince

    that I'd be profoundly disappointed

  • Aug. 3, 2012, 12:23 p.m. CST

    how does it compare to MANNEQUIN?

    by Spandau Belly

    I don't know how you top Starship's theme song.

  • Aug. 3, 2012, 12:23 p.m. CST

    hipster garbage

    by torpedoboy

    I'm calling it.

  • Aug. 3, 2012, 12:27 p.m. CST

    what is a hipster?

    by james

    I hear the term used pejoratively quite often but don't know what exactly makes one a hipster. Is it a fashion statement or something?

  • I could look it up on IMDB... Anyway, Paul Dano doesn't look like the offspring of Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas.

  • Aug. 3, 2012, 12:36 p.m. CST

    thebulldog87, I'll define the term "hipster" for you

    by Spandau Belly

    A hipster is somebody who thinks they can rebel against shallow materialism by pursuing a different brand of shallow materialism.

  • Aug. 3, 2012, 12:36 p.m. CST


    by fustfick

    Whoever wins... We lose.

  • Aug. 3, 2012, 12:36 p.m. CST

    thebulldog87: per Urban Dictionary...

    by The Dum Guy

    Hipsters are a subculture of men and women typically in their 20's and 30's that value independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art and indie-rock, creativity, intelligence, and witty banter. The greatest concentrations of hipsters can be found living in the Williamsburg, Wicker Park, and Mission District neighborhoods of major cosmopolitan centers such as New York, Chicago, and San Francisco respectively. Although "hipsterism" is really a state of mind,it is also often intertwined with distinct fashion sensibilities. Hipsters reject the culturally-ignorant attitudes of mainstream consumers, and are often be seen wearing vintage and thrift store inspired fashions, tight-fitting jeans, old-school sneakers, and sometimes thick rimmed glasses. Both hipster men and women sport similar androgynous hair styles that include combinations of messy shag cuts and asymmetric side-swept bangs. Such styles are often associated with the work of creative stylists at urban salons, and are usually too "edgy" for the culturally-sheltered mainstream consumer. The "effortless cool" urban bohemian look of a hipster is exemplified in Urban Outfitters and American Apparel ads which cater towards the hipster demographic. Despite misconceptions based on their aesthetic tastes, hipsters tend to be well educated and often have liberal arts degrees, or degrees in maths and sciences, which also require certain creative analytical thinking abilities. Consequently many hipsters tend to have jobs in the music, art, and fashion industries. It is a myth that most hipsters are unemployed and live off of their parent's trust funds. Hipsters shun mainstream societal conventions that apply to dating preferences and traditional "rules" of physical attraction. It is part of the hipster central dogma not to be influenced by mainsream advertising and media, which tends to only promote ethnocentric ideals of beauty. The concepts of androgyny and feminism have influenced hipster culture, where hipster men are often as thin as the women they date. The muscular and athletic all-American male ideal is not seen as attractive by confident and culturally-empowered hipster women who instead view them as symbols of male oppression, sexism, and misogyny. Likewise, culturally-vapid sorority-type girls with fake blond hair, overly tanned skin, and "Britney Spears tube-tops" are not seen as attractive by cultured hipster males who instead see them as symbols of female insecurity, low self-esteem, and lack of cultural intelligence and independent thinking. Hipsters are also very racially open-minded, and the greatest number of interracial couples in any urban environment are typically found within the hipster subculture. Although hipsters are technically conformists within their own subculture, in comparison to the much larger mainstream mass, they are pioneers and leaders of the latest cultural trends and ideals. For example, the surge of jeans made to look old and worn (i.e. "distressed"), that have become prevalent at stores such as The Gap, American Eagle, Abercrombie and Fitch, and Hollister, were originally paraded by hipsters who shopped in thrift stores years before such clothing items were mass produced and sold to the mainstream consumer. The true irony here is that many of the detractors of hipster culture are in fact unknowingly following a path that hipsters have carved out years before them. This phenomena also applies to music as well, as many bands have become successful and known to mainstream audiences only because hipsters first found and listened to them as early-adopters of new culture. Once certain concepts of fashion and music have reached mainstream audiences, hipsters move on to something new and improved. Because of the rise of various online photo-blog and social networking sites, insights into urban hipster culture is reaching sheltered suburban audiences at an exponential rate. Cultural "norms" have been deconstructed by hipster culture as a whole. Hipsterism is often dismissed as just an image thing by some, but the culture as a whole is effecting changes in society, leading to feelings of insecurity and resentment in people who are no longer a part of the cultural ruling class. For example, a lot of anti-hipster sentiment evidently comes from culturally-clueless suburban frat boy types who feel that the more sensitive, intelligent, and culturally aware hipster ideal threatens their insecure sense of masculinity. Anti-hipster sentiment often comes from people who simply can't keep up with social change and are envious of those who can. A conversation outside a hipster bar in downtown NYC: Frat Boy #1: Dude, are you having any luck picking up chicks in there? Frat Boy #2: Man...I haven't experienced anything like this before. These chicks are totally rejecting me and going for all these hipster guys in tight pants and shaggy hair instead. Frat Boy #1: Maybe we should head back up to that bar in Murry Hill where you hooked up with that drunk b*tch from Alpha Sigma Phi last week? Frat Boy #2: Yeah...I don't think we have what it takes to compete with these guys in here. These hipster chicks won't even give us the time of the day!

  • Aug. 3, 2012, 12:45 p.m. CST

    Can we get a review of the new Whitney Houston movie?

    by wampa_one

    I'm sure that will be equally cool to read about.

  • Aug. 3, 2012, 12:53 p.m. CST

    Stranger than Fiction

    by torpedoboy

    which itself seems to be a rip off of everything Charlie Kaufman ever made. I guess I could go further back. Woody Allen maybe?

  • Aug. 3, 2012, 12:57 p.m. CST

    So, it's not bad and queer?

    by Ian

  • Aug. 3, 2012, 1 p.m. CST

    thanks for the answers talkbackers

    by james

    I can see why this might considered a hipster oriented film now. I'll wait for netflix.

  • Aug. 3, 2012, 1:51 p.m. CST

    Saw it last week. It was terrible

    by gkhaikin

    So self indulgent, so wink wink nudge nudge. Character development was horrible... I walked out in the middle of the Q+A with the directors. WAIT FOR NETFLIX.

  • Aug. 3, 2012, 3:41 p.m. CST

    Shocker that anyone on AICN would review this positively

    by Detective_Fingerling

    After so many interviews from various members of the cast posted here last week.

  • Aug. 3, 2012, 4:30 p.m. CST

    It really annoys me that he uses a typewriter.

    by billcom6

    Nobody is writing on a typewriter nowadays. Get that hipster garbage out of here. I am excited to see this still in spite of its "quirkiness"

  • Aug. 3, 2012, 5 p.m. CST

    Am I the only one who can't stand Paul Dano?

    by atlatl

  • Aug. 3, 2012, 5:02 p.m. CST


    by atlatl

    Hipsters probably think Apple products are too mainstream so they toss out their Macbooks.

  • which, I still haven't seen "Like Crazy" yet either, but holy mother of god does Jones look cute in that.

  • Aug. 3, 2012, 6:21 p.m. CST

    So... does she do anal?

    by Jake Pantlin

    That would be the first thing I would 'write' for her to do, if I was creating her.

  • Aug. 3, 2012, 6:40 p.m. CST

    After watching this...

    by Itchypanda

    I needed to wash off all the hipster slime. A writer who chooses to write on an old typeset typewriter? Lives in a gorgeous duplex condo away from civilization? Owns a dog but complains about having it? Filthy rich, successful but neurotic and best friend is brother and therapist? Hippy parents? Cute movie but go ahead and rent a room in Silverlake, CA (hipster-ville).

  • Aug. 3, 2012, 7:14 p.m. CST

    She's very cute. Half my age, but very cute.

    by Stuntcock Mike


  • Aug. 3, 2012, 9:07 p.m. CST

    Look at me!! I'm quirky!!

    by Mugato5150

    Is there a happy medium between "look how quirky I am" and mainstream by the numbers shit? Maybe if everyone didn't try so hard.

  • Aug. 3, 2012, 9:18 p.m. CST

    I'm with you Tritanium...

    by john

    Hate Paul Dano with a passion. He only passed in There Will Be Blood for me because hating him made me love seeing him beaten to death with a bowling pin all the move satisfying.

  • i am sorry but for me and i am sure MANY others, this movie coming out at a time when 2% of all my nergasm wet fantasies are being delivered really overshadows me caring to see this. I am sure it is good and all, but is it django unchained? i mean, i am sure it is good and all..but is it skyfall? i mean..i am sure it is good and all..but was it .. you get my point. there are lots of other times when i have been so bored with the movie scene i would consider this but alas thank jesus those times for now have nulled a bit and i will not be wasting cash and will be utilizing my 10$ a month netflix account.

  • Get out of the house fools. Jesus the AICN talkbacks are depressing. You CAN watch a nard movie and a movie about real people. And give me a break with the hipster bashing. Most of you guys would kill to bed 1/8 of the women that the average hipster dude does. Please, one of these days, surprise me guys.

  • Aug. 4, 2012, 5:53 p.m. CST

    Speak for yourself, patch

    by Mugato5150

    There's a lot of self loathing in that post.

  • Aug. 4, 2012, 8:06 p.m. CST

    A phrase that sounds increasingly disingenuous

    by calrabjohns

    Not saying you used it this way, Nordling.  This is just the impression now that I get when any variation of these words are invoked by nearly every person in almost every context. "Those are just first world problems".  I'll bet all day long that the majority of people who say this are not doing work at soup kitchens or other philanthropic activities.  They're saying it because they want whoever is talking to shut up about his dog needing to visit the vet or his phone plan sucks---whatever.  You say "FWP," mention the scores of children dying in Africa from AIDS or malaria and leave the complainant in question to feel like a world-class asshole.  Better to tell the person to just shut up rather than invoke faux concern for the less fortunate of humanity unless you really are earnest about the various ills in the world and are doing something about it.  In that case, all you're accomplishing by saying that is judgment that will go through one ear and out the other.  Anyone inclined to do his or her part is already doing it. Had to get that off my chest.  I'll shut up now though since further complaining only compounds and emulates the very behavior that grates on the nerves.