(directors: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris; screenwriter: Zoe Kazan; cinematographer: Matthew Libatique; editor: Pamela Martin; music: Nick Urata; cast: Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks), Paul Dano (Calvin Weir-Fields), Annette Bening (Gertrude), Chris Messina (Harry), Antonio Banderas (Mort), Aasif Mandvi (Cyrus Modi ), Steve Coogan (Langdon Tharp), Toni Trucks (Susie), Deborah Ann Woll (Lila), Elliott Gould (Dr. Rosenthal), Alia Shawkat (Mabel); Runtime: 104; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Albert Berger, Ron Yerxa; Fox Searchlight; 2012)
“Quirky, romantic fable, that plays as a sweet romcom.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The husband-and-wife team of Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris (“Little Miss Sunshine”) joyfully direct this quirky, romantic fable, that plays as a sweet romcom. The script is by the actress/playwright Zoe Kazan (granddaughter of the great director Elia Kazan), who also acts in it. Zoe updates the myth of Pygmalion – the sculptor who falls in love with his statue.
It’s set in contemporary Los Angeles, where the 29-year-old novelist Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano, the real-life boyfriend of Zoe), at 19 wrote a book acclaimed to be as good as J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye.” That turned out to be his only book. Now he’s depressed by his split-up from his long-time girlfriend and dealing with this long-term case of writer’s block. During a walk in the park with his dog Scotty, named after the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, Calvin follows a suggestion from his psychiatrist, Dr. Rosenthal (Elliot Gould), to do an exercise for his treatment by writing a story about a young woman he imagines as his dream girl. He makes her into a 29-year-old redhead, who is a talented painter, and somehow magically meets her in the park. When his older brother Harry (Chris Messina) visits his Hollywood bachelor pad one morning, he surprisingly finds there his brother’s dream girl, a gorgeous redhead named Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan) cooking breakfast, as Calvin is startled to find she’s real. But he’s too sheepish to have some romantic fun with his new live-in guest like his cynical brother suggests. Instead he tweaks her, using his typewriter, and controls her so she’s exactly how the bookish man likes his perfect woman to be.
If you think it connects with how relationships transpire in real-life, you’ll probably like this fantasy film. But if you don’t, you’ll probably be turned off by its smugness of how it shows that men are so manipulative that they must keep a woman from being independent and for the woman to always be under their control.
In this film, far from a terrific one and more like a cute, catchy one that pays homage (in a Freudian way) to the son for creating a perfect woman that reminds him of his free-spirited hippie mom (Annette Bening) living in Big Sur with her hippie artist husband (Antonio Banderas), Calvin’s stepdad.
REVIEWED ON 11/21/2020 GRADE: B-