Paul Dano & Zoe Kazan Shine In Romantic Comedy Fantasy Ruby Sparks

Title: Ruby Sparks
Studio/Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Directors: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Principle Cast: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Chris Messina, Annette Bening, Steve Coogan, Elliot Gould, Antonio Banderas
Length: 104 minutes
Released: October 30, 2012
Stars: 3.5

Ruby Sparks is “the true and impossible story of my very great love.”  So says novelist Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano), who wrote a bestselling novel which had everyone declaring him a genius when he was in his late teens, but has never been able to duplicate his success.  Calvin lives alone in a big, colourless, lofty man cave spending his days agonizing over not being able to write, working out with his brother Harry (Chris Messina of The Newsroom,  Julie & Julia), walking his unruly dog Scotty, and visiting his shrink.  The neurotic and somewhat dweeb-like Calvin is suffering from long term writer’s block, so his therapist Dr. Rosenthal (Elliott Gould) suggests that he write about someone who could love him completely.

Calvin starts dreaming about a pretty and quirky redhead named Ruby (Zoe Kazan) that he meets in a park.  She’s everything that he’s ever imagined he wants in a girlfriend.  He starts writing about her out of a need to spend time with her and quickly becomes concerned that he’s falling in love with a figment of his imagination.

Suddenly women’s clothes and personal effects start to mysteriously appear in Calvin’s apartment, much to the consternation of his brother Harry and his wife Susan (Toni Trucks).  Before Calvin can process what’s happening, Ruby appears in the flesh, believing that they’ve been in a relationship for a couple of months and that they’re in the honeymoon stage.  He thinks he’s going crazy.

Calvin brings Ruby out into the real world to prove that he’s not dreaming and finds out that other people can see her too.  Delirious with joy, he leaps into his role as Ruby’s boyfriend with the glee of a high school boy experiencing his first love.  Calvin and Harry discover that Calvin can write anything he wants to about Ruby (for instance, he makes her speak French) and it will become manifested, literally.  However, when Ruby starts to express her need for space in their relationship, a disturbed Calvin decides to write her exactly how he wants her to be.  This backfires on him as he realizes that he has to be very careful and specific about his choice of words.  If he doesn’t write about her, she’s not within his control but if he does write about her, she’s not herself.  Calvin has no idea how to be in a relationship with a woman which he discovers first hand as he makes mistake after mistake with Ruby.

Paul Dano (Looper, There Will Be Blood) is a brilliant young actor and the reason I wanted to watch Ruby Sparks, and he doesn’t disappoint.  He’s an expert at using his face to express a character’s emotions and was completely believable as the confused Calvin.  I was, however, disappointed that Steve Coogan (The Trip, 24 Hour Party People) wasn’t given more to do as pretentious author Langdon Tharp and basically phoned in a stereotypical Coogan performance.  Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas (sporting a grey beard that makes him look older than usual & stealing every scene he was in) appear briefly as Calvin’s hippy-dippy, new age mother Gertrude and her jovial furniture-building partner, Mort, in a fun scene in a beautiful home in Big Sur, highlighted with ravishing gardens and a gorgeous swimming pool.  True Blood’s Deborah Ann Woll has one scene as Calvin’s ex-girlfriend Lila and she also left me wishing she had more. However, the movie belongs to Zoe Kazan (It’s Complicated, Revolutionary Road), granddaughter of director/actor Elia Kazan, who not only wrote the screenplay for Ruby Sparks but also lives with Paul Dano.  Zoe is captivating and delightful as Ruby and you can’t take your eyes off her.

A couple being directed by a couple (Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris of Little Miss Sunshine) makes for an interesting experiment and the result is a sweet, whimsical but relatable tale that asks the questions “How do I not seek to control the person I’m with?” and “How do you accept a person for who they are, completely?”  This story defines what it’s like to be in a relationship and to be the partner that doesn’t hold all the cards.

There was no reason that this movie needed to be rated R.  Its language is quite tame and there was only one scene in which characters were smoking a joint.  You see worse behaviour than that on Family Guy.  The extras on the DVD included 3 vignettes about various aspects of the film and were worth watching.  Although the directors didn’t embarrass themselves, they didn’t take any risks either and the only thing that stood out for me aside from Dano & Kazan’s performances was the enchanting French music in the soundtrack.

“Falling in love is an act of magic.  And so is writing.”  It’s too bad that the screenplay for this bittersweet love story with the moral “be careful what you wish for” is not magical, but merely a slightly above average romantic comedy fantasy that will make you smile and agree with how complex relationships are without thinking about it again after the credits roll.

DVD Review: Bending All The Rules

Title: Bending All The Rules
Studio/Distributor: eOne Entertainment
Directors: Morgan Klein and Peter Knight
Principal Cast: Colleen Porch, David Gail, Bradley Cooper
Release Date: June 21, 2011
Length: 93 minutes
Stars: 1

I foolishly fell for the DVD distributor’s see-through tactic of releasing an old film (2002) of the now successful and famous Bradley Cooper (“The Hangover”, “Limitless”) and an otherwise unknown cast, thinking that Bending All The Rules might be a fun, sexy and romantic comedy sleeper.  How bad could it be with Bradley Cooper in it?  He’s a whole lotta eye candy.  God, I was so wrong!  I am also so bummed that I cannot get those 87 minutes of my life back.  I had to watch this movie on two separate occasions because it was so terrible that I couldn’t sit through it all at once.  This is possibly the worst movie I’ve ever seen … and I’ve seen Plan 9 From Outer Space!

The writing is awful, the music is dreadful (think 1980s soap opera), the lighting is a joke, budget and directing non-existent (shame on you Morgan Klein & Peter Knight for thinking that you could write and direct a movie!) and the acting by everyone, including Cooper, is sadly super-substandard, although I will say that Cooper is the best thing about it.  Even the tagline is pathetic, “If you don’t play you won’t take home the big prize.”  I should have read it and watched the trailer—which is better than the film by 200%—before agreeing to review this one.  Shame on me!  Bending All The Rules is a waste of time of epic proportions and you probably shouldn’t even bother to read the rest of my review because it’s that bad.

The admittedly gorgeous Colleen Porch (most recently seen in the television series Lie To Me and The Mentalist in guest-starring roles) woodenly portrays, Kenna, a former Carny kid whose mother abandoned her when she was a tween, leaving her with her completely deadbeat dick wad of a father, who made his living as a Carny.  Kenna was taught a little bit about the game of the grifter from her father’s loser friends and now uses it to her advantage in her job as a cocktail waitress.

Unable to commit to any one relationship, Kenna works with bartender and deejay, Jeff (Bradley Cooper), who she is also shagging (their Kama Sutra sex scene is possibly the worst on film) and has convinced her other boyfriend, businessman Martin (David Gail—look him up on—you won’t find much) to agree to the “situation,” meaning the fact that she is having casual sex with both of them.  Kenna thinks it’s time that she shakes up the world of dating by bending all the rules and behaving like men do. She can get away with it because she looks like a runway model, and oh, she’s a talented photographer who hopes to make art her new career. Of course, Kenna’s long-lost mother returns on the evening of her first art gallery showing hoping to reconcile with her and win her forgiveness, which ruins the night for poor Kenna, who anyone in their right mind would have absolutely no sympathy for.

Both guys know about each other and neither of them is comfortable or happy with the fact that Kenna won’t choose one above the other.  She leads them around by their dicks and fisticuffs eventually ensue. There is no real moral to this story—hell, there’s barely a credible plot line—and the dialogue will literally make you groan out loud. In particular, the scene with Bradley Cooper and the woman who played his mother (Carol Klasek in the most dreadful performance I’ve ever seen) in the restaurant where she’s grilling him about his personal life is a certifiable eye-rolling gagger!

Do not waste one minute thinking about whether or not you should watch this movie. There are no special features on the DVD and even the most die-hard Bradley Cooper fan would be embarrassed to have it in their collection. Two thumbs down digging the dirt!!