Suspension of Disbelief: Ruby Sparks
Title: Ruby Sparks
Director: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Ferris
Actors: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan
I walked in to Ruby Sparks expecting something light. A bit of a rom com. A chick flick. I walked out having been hit with a whole lot more movie than I bargained for. Ruby Sparks is the story of a writer, Calvin, who has not produced a novel since his debut when he was 19. He feels lost and depressed, until he begins to write the story of Ruby, a manic pixie dream girl who he begins to fall in love with. Then, one day, out of the blue, Ruby appears in his house. A real person, but a real person whose actions Calvin can dictate by continuing to write.
This may seem like a rather trite set up, but what Zoe Kazan (writer) has done with it is fantastic. She uses a clearly fictional relationship as a way to explore emotional and physical manipulation, idealization of the other, abusive relationships, possessiveness, jealousy, and the difficulty of taking care of oneself in a relationship. The movie could have been a simple fantasy romance, but rather it ripped apart all of the ways we expected the relationship to progress, and ended up exposing Calvin as a selfish person, focused only on his own needs. Throughout the relationship, we see Calvin’s discomfort with women who act outside of his conception of them, a discomfort of women who take time for themselves instead of to care for his needs. And we often see it in writing that hits home as uncomfortably real: there were moments in the film where all I could think was “I have had this exact same conversation in these exact same words”. For nothing other than how bitterly true many of the words ring, I would suggest seeing the movie. Calvin shows anger at his ex, at Ruby and at his mother simply for being people who exist outside of him. This seemed to me the strongest point of the movie: Calvin was written as both sympathetic, but as believably self-absorbed.
In addition, I think the film explores a problematic attitude towards relationships that is common. The idea that an “other” will come along and fix your life and your problems. This often involves creating someone through idealization, demanding that they spend all of their time and energy on you, and feeling as if they are all you have. Often it seems to come from a male perspective, looking for a sort of feminine “care”. Hand in hand with this exploration is the destruction of the manic pixie dream girl archetype, which I believe it does quite well. Calvin’s brother states it best: “You haven’t written a real person. You’ve written a girl”. The dream girl is not a true and whole human being, despite her “quirks”. She is not allowed to have an existence outside of the relationship. She is not allowed to be selfish or practice self care. And she is expected to orient her entire life around making the man she is with feel happy. Ruby Sparks portrays this perfectly through the metaphorical vehicle of a fictional woman.
Joseph Gordon Levitt addressed this phenomenon very well when he said “The (500) Days of Summer attitude of “He wants you so bad” seems attractive to some women and men, especially younger ones, but I would encourage anyone who has a crush on my character to watch it again and examine how selfish he is. He develops a mildly delusional obsession over a girl onto whom he projects all these fantasies. He thinks she’ll give his life meaning because he doesn’t care about much else going on in his life. A lot of boys and girls think their lives will have meaning if they find a partner who wants nothing else in life but them. That’s not healthy. That’s falling in love with the idea of a person, not the actual person.” Ruby Sparks shows the fallout of the unhealthy obsession with an idea rather than a person.
Ruby Sparks explores a number of important topics and does so in a realistic manner, is well written, gripping, at times fun and funny, and at other times simply painful. It is cathartic, and so intimately emotional that I found myself feeling winded after I finished watching it. The only real difficulty I had with the movie was the ending, which seemed to imply that because Calvin had stopped using his power to control Ruby he suddenly could start fresh with her and have a good relationship, his life would start looking up, and everything would go well for him. However I do think that the ending only gives us potential: because Calvin has reached the basic threshold of human decency, he now has the potential for good relationships and the ability to actually see and care about other human beings. I’ll leave other viewers to come to their own conclusions about Calvin’s growth, but overall I strongly suggest seeing this movie.
4.5/5 Manic Pixie Dream Girls