Counting down to TCFF: ‘Ruby Sparks’ Review and Q&A

In about three months time, one of the most exciting event in my neck of the woods is touching down. YES, the Twin Cities Film Fest starts on FRIDAY, October 12 through Saturday, Oct. 20!

For more info, click on the banner to go to the official site and also LIKE TCFF on Facebook!

I’ve always loved a movie about writers. And the premise of Ruby Sparks no doubt intrigues me:

A novelist struggling with writer’s block finds romance in a most unusual way: by creating a female character he thinks will love him, then willing her into existence.

Now, what writer hasn’t dreamed of having this happens to them? Especially when one of your characters has all the criteria of the man/woman of your dreams 😉 But as Calvin Weir-Fields finds out, it’s a lot trickier than you think. At first glance, this movie shares some similarities with Stranger than Fiction, but with a few twists on its own. Whilst the Will Ferrell movie focuses on the character who finds himself the subject of narration only he can hear, this one focuses more on the writer.

Paul Dano stars as Calvin, a young writer who’s under pressure to relive his shining moment of having a New York Times best seller before he turns 20, but now suffers from a massive writer’s block. The way he portrays that agony is spot on and I immediately empathize with his character. One day Calvin sort of got his mojo back after having a vivid dream about a girl. Ruby Sparks is the name of that ‘dream’ girl, the protagonist of Calvin’s narration – a vivacious, bubbly red head, played with an infectious zest for life by Zoe Kazan. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, there she is! A living, breathing person who looks and sounds just like how he’s imagined her.

The moment Ruby enters Calvin’s life, hilarity ensues. Calvin is downright flabbergasted but Ruby is baffled by his reaction and acts as if she has always been living in his house the whole time. It’s a hilarious and endearing, funny and touching at the same time. Both Dano and Kazan played their part convincingly.

Some of the funniest moments also comes from Calvin’s married brother, Harry (Chris Messina), a stereotypical guy’s guy who thinks Calvin ought to get out more. He’s the only one who’s read Calvin’s unpublished draft about Ruby, so the moment they all meet over dinner is a hoot! They find out that Calvin can make Ruby do ANYTHING he wants, just as soon as he types it into the story. She can speak French, be a gourmet chef, etc. and of course the first thing Harry thinks of is all the um, physical alterations Calvin can do on Ruby, and basically whatever a man would want their dream girl to be and do for them.

Whilst it has plenty of amusing moments, things aren’t always so rosy. In fact, there’s a lot of dark moments here that merits its R rating. In many ways, the tone and themes are similar to Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’ 2006 debut, Little Miss Sunshine where thigh-slapping humor are seamlessly mixed with intense pathos and emotional anguish. In fact, there is a fight scene towards the end of the film that is so raw, intense and utterly gut-wrenching.

The acting is top notch here. The two young cast, Dano and Kazan, definitely carry the film with aplomb. They have amazing chemistry together, Ruby’s spunky-ness perfectly balances Calvin’s awkward, somewhat socially-inept self. The supporting cast add richness to the story: Annette Bening plays Calvin’s sympathetic, free-spirited mom, Antonio Banderas as her warm, carpenter boyfriend and Elliot Gould as his therapist. Steve Coogan and True Blood‘s Deborah Ann-Woll had bit parts but are memorable despite their brief screen time.

My only issue with the film is the predictable and rather saccharine-sweet ending. I feel like if it had ended just a few minutes before the final scene, it would’ve been perfect for me. I kind of like a little bit of uncertainty at the end, where things are not always neatly tied with a big, red bow. Still, Ruby Sparks is a well-written, engaging love story.

Final Thoughts: I highly recommend this one, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry and definitely enjoy the performances. As Dayton and Farris used to be music video directors, the use of music is also compelling here, I’m sure the soundtrack is equally charming. Props for Zoe Kazan for writing an offbeat love story that feels refreshingly authentic, which is rare to see. It reminds me a bit of (500) Days of Summer, but to me, Zoe Kazan is far more endearing than Zooey Deschanel.

4.5 out of 5 reels

Summary of the TCFF Q&A with the filmmakers and leading cast:

I saw this last Monday July 16, and what a pleasant surprise to see both filmmakers and the two leading cast, Zoe and Paul were in town to promote the movie! I knew TCFF had announced there’ll be a Q&A afterwards but I didn’t think the cast would be there. TCFF executive director Jatin Setia moderated the event.

One question from the audience was about the believable chemistry between the two leading cast. Well, straight from Paul himself, apparently he and Zoe are dating. Zoe is just as bubbly in person as she is in the film, which is cute to see. I realized shortly afterwards that she is the grand-daughter of Elia Kazan! Obviously she shared his talent and I do think she has a bright future in Hollywood.

Paul seems more introverted and shy, and this is the second time he collaborates with the husband-and-wife directing duo as he previously starred as the reclusive, Nietzsche-obsessed teen in Little Miss Sunshine.

I asked Paul how he portrayed the novelist persona so convincingly, especially in conveying the writer’s block with such agony. I told him that though I knew he was an amazing actor, I wonder if he did any extensive research on that, y’know, like following a real novelist for a week or something like that.

Well, apparently he didn’t. Paul explained in his modest manner that he as an actor, he could easily empathize with a writer’s plight as he put it, ‘we’re artists who live and die by their work.’ He said that it can be extremely agonizing for an artist to be required to produce something creative, whether it’s a narration or performance, in a given allotted time in order to meet deadline. I thought that was a cool answer!

One insight I got from the filmmakers on the music was the fact that their experience as music video directors comes in handy in that they’ve become quite efficient in their film productions. They also understand the importance of music in film, so even on a paltry budget of $8 million, they had a 60-piece orchestra for the soundtrack!

Paul Dano complimented the filmmakers in that on top of being musically and visually gifted directors, Dayton and Farris also have a keen talent for story and character, which definitely shows in Ruby Sparks!

What’s next for Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan?

Paul’s been steadily turning up great work in a relatively short career. He’s worked with renowned directors like Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood) and Spike Jonze (Where the Wild Things Are). At the Q&A he said that from Minneapolis he’d be off to Louisiana to film Twelve Years A Slave with Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt and Benedict Cumberbatch (wow!) for British director ‘du jour’ Steve McQueen. He’ll also be seen in Looper with equally gifted young actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

This is the first time I saw Zoe Kazan on film, but she’s got almost two dozen TV/movie work under her belt. She’ll be starring with Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe in an upcoming romantic comedy The F-Word.

Ruby Sparks filmmaker/cast with TCFF staff

Thanks to TCFF and Allied Integrated Marketing for bringing such a special screening to Minneapolis!

Thoughts on the movie and/or the talents involved? Let’s hear it in the comments.

26 thoughts on “Counting down to TCFF: ‘Ruby Sparks’ Review and Q&A

    1. She’s only there for about 5 minutes, but I’m sure you’ll find it worthwhile. If you like LMS, I think you’d like this one Julian.

  1. PrairieGirl

    This is certainly the ‘feel good’ film of the summer, I rate it right up there with the best. And to think we were the very last two people to get in or we would have missed it! Thanks for inviting me to tag along ;-D

    1. Ha..ha.. yeah, can’t believe we almost didn’t make it! I’ve never sat so close to the screen before but glad that we’re in front row during the Q&A though 🙂

  2. Ted S.

    The movie sounds good, I’ll probably give it a rent.

    As I mentioned earlier, I’ll try to make it to as many movies as I could this year at the festival. I may actually be shooting my movie in the fall now, my budget took a hit so now I have to push back the shooting date.

    1. Bummer about your movie, Ted! I do hope we can cover TCFF together this year like we planned last year. Yeah, I’m hoping we’d get great lineup this year, too!

  3. 1. Thanks for such a fantastically written review and write-up of the Q&A. Excited to see this. 2. I am [BIG BOLD LETTERS]SO FLIPPIN JEALOUS!!![END BIG BOLD LETTERS].

    1. Hi Andy! Hope you get to see this one man, I think it’s released wide in mid August. Hey, are you coming up to the cities for the film fest? I hope you do!

      1. I have to see this one. Sounds too good to pass up. Let’s see, the Film Fest is in September, right? If so, as per usual, I’ll be out of luck. I head back to Mankato late August, and stuck there ’till December. Enjoy it for me, though, lady dude! Film fests in Mankato are pretty much regulated to student productions, and My God, I’m lucky if I come across a halfway decent one.

  4. Sounds great. I loved little miss sunshine and for the life of me couldn’t remember the name of this film. (Thanks also for telling me the name of the next Steve McQueen film.) Great post.

    1. Hi Mark, I think you’ll like this one. Yeah, I didn’t know Dano was going to be in McQueen’s next movie until that Q&A, awesome cast indeed!

  5. Thanks for sharing this. I actually had no awareness of this film and only just now viewed the trailer after reading this. It sounds very interesting indeed. And if its’s anything like (500) Days Of Summer like you said, then its worth a viewing.

    Forget writers, I think everyone would like powers like this!

    1. Hi Asrap, oh glad to be the one letting you know. I thought the trailer was pretty good, I actually like it a bit more than (500) Days as I can’t stand Zooey Deschanel. Ha..ha.. yeah, this would be a nice superpower to have… that is until it stops being fun.

  6. bbbgtoby

    Big fan of Paul Dano and this movie sounds great. This is the reason why I ran out of time in my previous blogging life, too many great reviews of too many great films.

    1. Hi Toby! Paul is such an amazing actor, yet so down to earth, he definitely doesn’t have the predisposition of a Hollywood actor at all which is so refreshing! He’s wonderful in this one, I don’t think you’d be disappointed.

  7. It must have been great to be in the presence of such talented people. I loved Little Miss Sunshine and really enjoyed the trailer for this one. I’m looking forward to it, great to see a really positive review. Thanks Ruth!

  8. Whoa, you make me want to see this even more. I love Litlle Miss Sunshine, and Paul Dano in it. Zoe Kazan seem to be a perfect partner for him. I watched Paul Dano’s movie after LMS but it wasn’t very good. Still have hopes for him though. I’ll definitely this give one a look. Thanks, Ruth!

    1. Paul and Dano definitely complement each other well. What was the movie you saw after LMS? I still haven’t seen There Will Be Blood but now that I know the brutal ending I don’t feel like watching it. I have a feeling you’ll love this one Andina.

  9. Great writeup, Ruth! Just noticed this movie is playing at a local theater, so I may try to catch it before it skips town. I’m always interested in movies about writers, even if this is more of a love story. 🙂

    And that’s really cool that you got to be there for a Q&A! I feel that they always add so much more to the film itself.

    1. Ahah, no love for love stories? No worries, this one is not cheesy like most rom-coms, and if you like movies about writers you’ll love Paul’s performance. I really identified with his plight of writer’s block! Yeah, the Q&A is great, they’re all so down-to-earth and considering how Paul’s been steadily working w/ big directors/cast he seems to have NO ego about being a Hollywood celeb, that’s very refreshing.

  10. Little Miss Sunshine was one of my favorite films, so I can’t wait to see this one! Great review and I loved the q&a part, too, didn’t knew they were dating or that she was Kazan grand daughter!

    1. Hi Diana, yeah I found out about Paul & Zoe that night myself, and I was kicking myself for not knowing Zoe was Elia’s granddaughter, I would’ve asked her about him during the Q&A!

  11. Great post, Ruth! I had heard of the movie but had no idea of what it was about. Spunds very, very interesting and it has a great cast. I’m a HUGE Paul Dano fan (so cool that he answered your question) and have seen Kazan in small roles (Revolutionary Road, It’s Complicated, Happythankyoumoreplease) so I’m looking forward to seeing what she does with a meatier part.

  12. Good to see you enjoyed Ruby Sparks, Ruth! The trailer is fun and made me really intrigued of seeing the film. Your raving review and Nick’s positive take might just be enough for me to seek this out 😀

  13. Dano and Zoe are dating? Just like Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, right? Is that the new thing now?

    You know, while I had a few minor issues with it I actually quite liked that last scene. It is kinda overly sweet but I felt like that the film was acknowledging that even if you offer up an in depth analysis of whether or not The Manic Pixie Dream Girl exists, it’s not going to stop us desperate writers from hoping. I liked that message.

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