RUBY SPARKS (directors: Jonathan Dayton/Valerie Faris; screenwriter: Zoe Kazan; cinematographer: Matthew Libatique; editor: Pamela Martin; music: Nick Urata; cast: Paul Dano (Calvin Weir-Fields), Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks), Antonio Banderas (Mort), Annette Bening (Gertrude), Steve Coogan (Langdon Tharp), Elliott Gould (Dr. Rosenthal), Chris Messina (Harry), Alia Shawkat (Mabel), Aasif Mandvi (Cyrus Modi), Toni Trucks (Susie), Deborah Ann Woll (Lila); Runtime: 104; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Albert Berger/Ron Yerxa; Fox Searchlight Pictures; 2012)

"A tepidly humored cerebral gimmicky fantasy film."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

A tepidly humored cerebral gimmicky fantasy film set in the luxurious Hollywood Hills, that offers its unique take on the Pygmalion myth. It's about a timid, self-absorbed, nerdy 29-year-old writer, Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano, real-life boyfriend of Zoe Kazan), who ten years ago, after dropping out of high school, wrote a great best-selling novel but recently suffers from depression and writer's block. The forlorn Calvin is assigned by his therapist (Elliott Gould) to a one-page writing assignment about a dream girl he imagines and the patient conjures up a muse he would love to get romantic with, Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan, Elia Kazan’s granddaughter), and through movie magic she turns out to be for real (which passes as unexplained at how this is possible) as a 26-year-old painter from Dayton, Ohio. Co-directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris ("Little Miss Sunshine") try in a heavy-handed manner to spice up this cutesy premise with Calvin losing track of what's real and what's fiction, the only problem Ruby is perceived as real by his supportive but irritatingly crass brother (Chris Messina), who does so fearing bro is going crazy. Ruby's part is written without sex appeal-she's the bubbly kind of chick-as the couple go through a rather immature relationship that gets its cues as Calvin types the manuscript and dictates her actions.

The screenplay by Ms. Kazan tries to take a crack at how women are perceived by men writers and tries to get something psychological worked up about the male author being a control freak who wants Ruby to follow the script he writes for her and when she rebels he overreacts. Ruby is viewed only as a movie character mouthing the author's agenda of taking some pot shots at Hollywood roles for actress roles being so limited. Though it makes a few minor points about women misrepresented in Hollywood by nerdy male writers, but leaves that hanging for a dull conclusion that brings the rom-com down for a safe landing.

The film voices affection for literary lions such as J. D. Salinger and F. Scott Fitzgerald, fantasy movies such as Harvey and movie legends like Bogie. In minor roles as eccentric characters are Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas as Calvin' Big Sur living hippie mother and her live-in avant-garde hippie boyfriend furniture maker; while Steve Coogan is an uncouth literary agent figure, who mentors the author.

REVIEWED ON 9/15/2012       GRADE: C

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"