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Aug 28

You’ve never met a girl like “Ruby Sparks”

Quirky romantic comedy “Ruby Sparks” has fun tweaking stereotypes

Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) is about to meet his dream girl.

She’s cute and quirky, a red-headed, blue-eyed vision in printed dresses and brightly colored tights. She paints. She sings. She cooks a mean meatloaf.

And there’s something else that sets Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan) apart from other girls. She’s a figment of Calvin’s imagination.

An ingenious twist on the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope,“Ruby Sparks” pushes the rom-com formula further by making the fantasy more, well, fantastic.

A decade after penning the next Great American Novel at age 19, Calvin is a sad, sorry mess.

He’s stricken with writer’s block. Devastated over the departure of ex-girlfriend Lila (Deborah Ann Woll). Paralyzed by his former fame. (His dog, Scotty, is equally pathetic.)

Then, one night, Calvin dreams of Ruby. Suddenly, he’s so inspired that he can barely step away from his typewriter.

“I literally cannot eat or sleep because I want to write,” Calvin confides in his therapist, Dr. Rosenthal (Elliott Gould). “It’s almost like I’m writing to spend time with her. It’s like I’m falling in love with her.”

Sure, every writer has a certain fondness for his fictional creations. But not every writer awakes to discover that creation standing his kitchen eating Crispix.

“There’s no way you’re sleeping with a girl you made up,” Calvin’s slightly boorish brother, Harry (Chris Messina), says. How is this possible?

“It’s love! It’s magic!” is Calvin’s reply.

A typical romantic comedy might end there — with a blissful Calvin sailing off into the sunset with the manufactured love of his life. But “Ruby Sparks” doesn’t let him off the hook quite that easily.

Like “(500) Days of Summer” and “Stranger Than Fiction” before it, “Ruby Sparks” toes terribly close to twee at times. Fortunately, the film –directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the same husband-and-wife team that brought us “Little Miss Sunshine,” — is saved by its savvy, satirical edge.

Real-life couple Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan, who wrote the screenplay, are well-cast as Calvin and his complicated love interest.

They’re backed by an engaging supporting cast, including Steve Coogan as Calvin’s slightly sleazy mentor, Annette Bening as his delightfully hippy-dippy mother and Antonio Banderas as her grass-smoking Latin lover. Alia Shawkat, aka Maeby on “Arrested Development,” makes a brief but memorable appearance as a friendly super-fan.

But the character that most often hits the nail on the head is Harry, played with typical-guy gusto by Chris Messina. He’s the one who sees the advantages — as well as the drawbacks — of falling in love with a fiction.

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“Ruby Sparks” image courtesy of MovieWeb.com.

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