There is a theory in screen writing circles that there are only a certain number of plots and that every story falls into one of these scenarios. My favorite illustration of this is the idea that the musical “My Fair Lady” and the horror movie “Frankenstein” are the same story. Granted, their respective tones could not be more different. I mean, we should be grateful that neither Colin Clive (Dr. Frankenstein – iconic 1931 version) nor Boris Karloff (same version) ever burst into song. That, of course, was left to the Mel Brooks version, “Young Frankenstein” (1974).
“My Fair Lady” and “Frankenstein,” in terms of their basic scenarios, are remarkably similar. In each story a man creates new life, either literally (in “Frankenstein”) or figuratively (in “My Fair Lady”). Eventually there are consequences for the creator who has not taken into account what will happen to his creature after he has given birth to him or her. All of which brings us to the new movie “Ruby Sparks” starring the charming and adorable Zoe Kazan and her real life significant other, Paul Dano.
If you have seen the trailer for “Ruby Sparks” you already know a good chunk of the movie. Dano plays Calvin, a blocked writer with a non-existent love life who creates, on the page, his dream girl, the Ruby Sparks of the title. In a “Twlight Zone” type twist, Ruby materializes. Calvin is able to make Ruby do whatever he wants simply by typing it into his typewriter. Calvin has control of Ruby and seems to have what, for him, is the perfect relationship, or, as his brother Harry (Chris Messina) puts it, “For men everywhere, tell me you’re not going to let that go to waste.”
The film’s second act, which begins with Ruby’s appearance, is charming and fulfills the promise of the trailer. In fact, if you have seen the “Ruby Sparks” trailer, nicely made by the way, you could walk in just in time for the film’s third act and still understand what is going on.
Despite Calvin’s idyllic situation, real life relationship issues eventually intrude, his magical typewriter notwithstanding. The third act gets a little clunky and, while, over all, I liked “Ruby Sparks,” it does suffer a little from the malady of a good set up which does not completely fulfill its promise in the payoff.
The screenplay was written by Kazan and the movie has been directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who also directed “Little Miss Sunshine” (2006). There is an interesting circularity here involving real life and fantasy. In the real world Kazan wrote the screenplay, creating her own character as well as Calvin’s. In the fantasy world of the story she then hands over the reigns to Calvin to write her character.
As the leads, Kazan and Dano prove a charismatic couple along with a game cast that includes Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas and Elliott Gould.
“Ruby Sparks” is playing locally at Regal Cinemas Union Square Stadium 14, 850 Broadway.