Ruby Sparks

DIRECTED BY: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
STARRING: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Chris Messina
RATING: 3 stars

You know when you think you've got a great idea for a story and you plan the beginning out in your head and it seems really good, but then you get stuck and have no idea how to end it? Well that's what seems to have happened to writer/actress Zoe Kazan when she wrote Ruby Sparks.

Calvin (Paul Dano) is a young novelist many consider to be a “genius” following the success of his debut novel. But now he is struggling with writer's block and "can't even get laid" in his dreams. At the suggestion of his psychiatrist (Elliott Gould), Calvin writes a single page and soon he has a breakthrough, creating a character named Ruby (Kazan). One day, Calvin finds Ruby in his house. He thinks he's going crazy, but soon realises she is very real and whatever he writes about her becomes a reality.

The first half of this film was very good. We're presented with a relatively original idea and the dialogue is excellent. It's witty, quirky and entertaining. Unfortunately, that all unravels in the second half before the film descends into a much darker story. Suddenly, the film goes from being a comedy to a more serious film as Calvin starts to take advantage of his power over Ruby. The final 15 minutes drag on and the conclusion is both unsatisfying and makes no sense at all. This wonderfully magical film is suddenly sprinkled with the magic of a Hollywood ending that threatens to ruin the film.

Some of the most fun scenes are when Calvin proves to himself and others that Ruby is real, like when he is sitting at a cafe trying to ignore Ruby and when he and his brother Harry (Chris Messina) test her existence by making Ruby do random things like speak French. The fun in these scenes is largely due to Dano's performance. He is like an awkward, young Woody Allen. He also has great chemistry with Messina and Kazan who both give great performances too. Kazan is not a traditional leading lady, but she's definitely "the girl next door" type. Brief roles have also been given to Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, Steve Coogan and Elliott Gould. However, none of them were really given a chance to shine. Bening and Banderas in particular seemed to be there just because they're famous actors and their scenes as Calvin's mum and step-dad added very little to the story.

The directing team that brought us Little Miss Sunshine (Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris) try their best with this film, but there's little they can do to save a plot that spirals out of control. Let's not forget that Kazan comes from Hollywood royalty. Her grandfather is legendary director Elia Kazan (East of Eden, On The Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire). She has big shoes to fill and while Ruby Sparks is a commendable effort, she's still got a long way to go.