In his review of Elizabethtown (http://www.avclub.com/articles/the-bataan-death-march-of-whimsy-case-file-1-eliza,15577/) Nathan Rabin describes Kristen’s Dunst’s character as the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. This is a kooky girl who only seems to be there so that she can shake the main character out of his brooding existence while being non-threatening and perky at all times.
And so we have Ruby Sparks directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine) and written by Zoe Kazan. Calvin (Paul Dano) is an author with a successful debut novel, unfortunately this was 10 years ago and he hasn’t written another book since. Struggling with writers block his therapist asks him to write a page about someone who likes his dog. Calvin eventually comes up with the character of Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan) an attractive, wacky artist who likes Calvin for all his quirks. Then Calvin finds Ruby in his flat, thinking she’s his girlfriend and no idea she’s a fictional character he created. Then he realises everyone else can see her too.
Ruby Sparks is about what happens a man’s ideal pixie girl comes to life. True to the trope she brings excitement to his dull life and loves him despite his faults. But rather than just settle for a simple indie rom-com as shown in the trailers for the film, Kazan shows us the darker drama that lies underneath the humour. Calvin has somehow created Ruby into life, and if he keeps writing he can control what she does, which brings up ethical dilemmas and a discussion about how to conduct a healthy, adult relationship. If you were Calvin would you be tempted to control how a person behaves? What if you could create the perfect girlfriend? And what if the Manic Pixie Dream Girl wants to grow up and have a life of her own away from the hero?
Paul Dano is great as the insecure Calvin, not afraid to show us how needy and controlling Calvin can be. The script by Kazan is witty and insightful. She is also great as Ruby with a strong acting range as Ruby goes from to hyper and over-enthusiastic to depressed and tearful due to Calvin’s writing. There is also great supporting cast from Chris Messina as Calvin’s brother Henry the only other person who knows Ruby is fictional, and Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas as Calvin’s hippy mum and stepfather.
The downside to this film is that it might not work for some people expecting a quirky rom-com and finding that it’s got a darker edge. The ending may also leave audiences divisive. But for me I enjoyed the mix of a light, comedic first half and a more thoughtful second half about the male ego and what happens when you only see women in an idealised way rather than as a real person.
A great deconstruction of the Manic Dream Pixie Girl and her ‘hero’.