Not your conventional boy-meets-girl romantic story, “Ruby Sparks” leads us to Calvin Weir-Fields, (played by Paul Dano who also appeared in “Little Miss Sunshine,” “There Will Be Blood”) a literary wunderkind with an acclaimed first novel. But since then, he’s been stricken with a stubborn case of writer’s block magnified by a dismal love life. In a last-ditch attempt to reignite his creative spark, Calvin begins to envision a female protagonist in his mind.
Then one morning she steps off the page and into his life. Suddenly, Ruby (portrayed by Zoe Kazan who is also the film’s writer) is sleeping in Calvin’s bed, cooking in his kitchen, beguiling him in every way, with one mind-boggling twist: he somehow has the power to change her every time he sits at his typewriter. As Calvin tries to juggle this power, he faces a major dilemma as a writer and a boyfriend: what will it take to make this relationship from his imagination work in the real world?
It seems fitting that “Ruby Sparks,” a romantic fable about how two people weave a love story in and out of reality, was brought to life by a married pair of directors (Dayton & Faris) working with two actors who are also a devoted couple (Dano and Kazan). A sharp, modern take on the Pygmalion myth, “Ruby Sparks” is the story of a novelist’s vision who inexplicably comes to life, only to prove far more complicated than even he could have imagined. With a light touch and a dash of magical realism, the first screenplay from actress and playwright Zoe Kazan attracted the attention of Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris, the married team who directed the run-away hit “Little Miss Sunshine.” The film takes an unpredictable route into fantasy, identity and the ways we invent love – and how love can re-invent us.
The duo decided to approach the story not as a sci-fi fantasy, but as something that is currently happening in the everyday world, no matter how bizarre it might seem to Calvin. “Even though the story is built around a fictional premise, it illuminates so many truths about relationships. We felt it was essential for the scenes to feel real and honest,” explains Dayton.
On the premise’s conception, Kazan shared that “I started wondering what might happen if a writer had a character come to life who could give him exactly what he thought he wanted romantically. How do you love the person you’re with completely without saying ‘I don’t want this part or that part?’ How do you make room in a relationship for two separate people? But things get very complicated because when you really love someone you have to love all of the person, not just the parts you’ve idealized.”
As Kazan wrote, she began sharing her work with her boyfriend, the actor Paul Dano, and though she had not set out to write something for the two of them, they couldn’t help but envision one another in the lead roles. “I think I was always subconsciously writing Calvin for Paul,” she muses. “But the weirdest thing is that I was writing a character who is writing my character! There was something very meta going on.”
Kazan wasn’t so interested in the science fiction aspect of how a writer’s fantasy character might come to life – she was more intrigued by what would come next. How would a fictional creation fare in the midst of the messiness of real life, especially when the man writing her isn’t sure of exactly what he wants? There has been a long literary tradition of riffing on the man-made object made human: Shakespeare with Queen Hermione in “A Winter’s Tale,” George Bernard Shaw with Eliza Doolittle in “Pygmalion,” and Mary Shelley gave it another take with her “Frankenstein” myth. Kazan wanted to come at the concept from a literary perspective, exploring a writer who pens the lover he thinks he wants in his heart . . . but who makes him so nervous in the flesh, he is tempted to keep changing her.
“The story leaves some questions open for discussion,” concludes Faris, “we hope that people will leave the theatre with something to talk about.” Adds Dayton: “Despite this movie’s high-concept premise, we think audiences will identify with Calvin’s predicament.” Kazan chimes in, “I am so proud of the movie we made. After such a happy collaboration, we are really excited to share the film with an audience, hear their reactions, start that conversation.”
“Ruby Sparks” opens September 19 in cinemas from 20th Century Fox to be distributed by Warner Bros.