Over/Under rated: Ruby Sparks; the hidden jewel of the independent romance genre

Emma Kiely argues in favour of the underrated indie comedy Ruby Sparks, a tale of love, control, and fantasy.

Independent cinema can be confusing. A director can show you a shot of a wilting tulip for five minutes straight and it can be considered art. These movies can be boring, confusing and sometimes soulless. However, they can also be a less commercial and fictionalised view of life, even if the themes are straight out of a fantasy, like in Ruby Sparks. Directed by Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton, the team behind the Oscar-winning tearjerker Little Miss Sunshine, and written by the film’s star Zoe Kazan, the film follows secluded writer Calvin (Paul Dano) who hasn’t been able to follow the success of his international best-selling which launched him into fame as a teenager. Cavin begins to write about his “dream girl”, Ruby Sparks (Kazan) and becomes unable to leave his typewriter due to his attachment to her. That is, until one day she comes to life and is residing in his home - the picturesque happy couple. 

Be under no illusion, this is no whimsical, Disneyesque fantasy film. The narrative does not spend any time trying to explain how Ruby came to life. It is seen to have occurred and the story, seamlessly, moves on. Calvin and Ruby then embark on a perfect few weeks of utter happiness, basking in each other’s existence throughout one of my favourite film montages. She gets on with his family, he has her all to himself. What could go wrong?

Everything, as we find out. Calvin and his brother soon realise that whatever he writes in his typewriter about Ruby, immediately comes true. With a few clicks of a button, Ruby is speaking French, a skill previously unknown to her. This experiment descends into controlling toxicity, as when Ruby tries to gain more independence from Calvin he begins changing her moods as well as her attitudes towards him. His inability to recapture the bliss he felt at the beginning of their relationship sets in motion an inevitable downfall. 

Real-life couple Kazan and Dano’s chemistry is magnetic and carries the film through its alternating moods. The film feeds on the film trope of the “perfect girl”, and analyses the male tendency to project their desires onto these women and then discard them when they no longer conform to these desires. One of the final scenes of the film inches close to horror, revealing the true malice of romantic control. It takes fantasy as its main generic convention and somehow formulates a story that is reflective of modern relationships and attitudes towards women, may they be fictional or real, showing that relationships can be as equally malignant as they are joyous.