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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Ruby Sparks

October 29th, 2012

Ruby Sparks - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

Paul Dano is an incredibly talented actor; however, his track record at the box office has been spotty. Ruby Sparks had enough buzz going in that some thought it would expand semi-wide. It did start out well, but by the third week of limited release, it was clear it wasn't going to find a mainstream audience. Did it deserve to perform better? Is it too art house? Or is there another reason it failed to live up to some expectations.

The Movie

Paul Dano stars as Calvin Weir-Fields, a writer who had great success with his first novel when he was 19, but has failed to live up to his early success since then. In fact, in the beginning of the film, he's dealing with major writer's block. When his brother, Harry, calls, he's quick to use that as an excuse to stop looking at the blank page in the typewriter. Later he speaks with his therapist, Dr. Rosenthal, who talks to him about several topics, including his lack of friends. Calvin recently got a dog, Scotty, to help him connect with people, but that hasn't worked out so far, because the dog slobbers too much and is scared of people. So Dr. Rosenthal gives him a writing assignment. Write a page about a woman who knows Scotty slobbers too much and is shy, but still loves him for who he is.

Next up on Calvin's day is a public event with his mentor, Langdon Tharp, that his agent, Cyrus Modi, setup. This is clearly the part of being a writer he hates the most. Dealing with the fans, especially the flirty ones like Mabel, make him nervous. When he gets home, he finds Scotty had ripped up some books and peed on his bed. This is going to make writing about someone who loves Scotty much harder.

That night Calvin has a dream about a lady, one that he's met in his dreams before. She wants to draw his dog, because she's an artist. They talk about his dog, why he named his Scotty, what that says about him,etc. The dreams ends when the lady says, "I like him just the way he is." That gives Calvin the spark of inspiration he needed and he begins to write. He writes for days when he finally takes a break to talk to Dr. Rosenthal. He's excited that he's writing again, but there's also a problem. He's falling in love with this fictional woman, Ruby Sparks. Dr. Rosenthal still thinks this is good news. When he talks to his brother about it, Harry's more blunt about the writing. He thinks it won't sell, because a quirky woman whose faults only make them more appealing are not realistic. It is very true that Ruby Sparks is not a real woman. This doesn't stop Calvin from writing more about Ruby Sparks that night. He even falls asleep at the typewriter.

Calvin wakes up the next morning when Cyrus calls. He overslept because he was writing so much, but he's so excited about the stuff he's written that he wants to show it to Cyrus right away, but while he's trying to get away, he sees Ruby Sparks, in his kitchen, in the flesh. He reacts like anyone in this situation would... He freaks out. He's convinced he's either dreaming or completely mad. He calls Dr. Rosenthal, but goes to voice mail. He calls Harry, but Harry's in a meeting and can't talk to him. Harry does give him a piece of advice. Call a friend, someone who can't seen Ruby, and meet with them. Having no one else to call, he remembers Mabel gave him his phone number and calls her to meet for lunch.

Calvin tries ditch Ruby before meeting Mabel, but Ruby interrupts their lunch together. At first Calvin simple ignores Ruby; after all, he doesn't want to talk to an imaginary person in public. But when Mabel talks to Ruby, he really starts to have a meltdown. Ruby is real. She's real and she's exactly like what he said she was in his writing. Calvin tells Harry about Ruby and reacts like a normal person would. He assumes Calvin has lost his mind. Calvin does introduce Harry to Ruby, but Harry thinks she's an actress Calvin hired. Harry does offer Calvin a test. Write something about Ruby. Change the character in some way. If the real life Ruby changes, then he's right. It works. It's a miracle. However, Harry's original warning still applies. While Calvin is convinced he'll love Ruby no matter what and he'll never have to write about her again to change anything about her, reality is different than fantasy, even reality created by fantasy.

Ruby Sparks was written by Zoe Kazan and she's created an amazing script. It works as a romantic comedy, but with a much stranger "meet cute" than most films in the genre have. It has more than enough breezy light moments and the two leads have enough chemistry together that it works on that level. However, as it also explores the dangers of the ideal woman, or what people think would be ideal and this means it sometimes has a much darker tone to it. As Calvin and Ruby's relationship continues, Harry's warning does come true and despite his initial pledge not to write about Ruby again, Calvin decides to make a few changes. However, these changes never work out as he intended and his control over Ruby's personality was, well, sinister. I was a little worried that this film was going to go in a very twisted direction, but in the end, it has a lighter touch to the finish. Granted, I would be neglectful if I didn't mention how the ending was very similar to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In fact, one could call this movie a cross between that film and Stranger than Fiction, with a wish granter twist to it. In no way should that be considered an insult, as I love both of those films.

On a side note, while watching the movie, I was thinking what I would do in this situation. One of the things I thought about was giving Ruby friends. To be a real person and not a character, she needed to be well-rounded, and to do that, she needed friends that she should spend time with. And then I thought, "She needs a friend who thinks Calvin's writing is pretentious." It was kind of creepy in the end.

The Extras

Extras are limited to a series of short featurettes. The first is a four-minute featurette on The Story. Real Life Couples spends three minutes about talking about how the directing team, Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton, and the two leads, Zoe Kazan and Paul Dano, are couples in real life. Be Careful What You Wish For is a four-minute featurette on the central theme. There are two featurettes that are exclusive to the Blu-ray: There is also a four-minute featurette on The Cast and a three-minute shooting in Los Angeles: The Other Character.

The film looks and sounds good on Blu-ray, but as a dialogue-driven Indie film, it isn't a visual feast, nor is the audio track complicated. The level of detail is good, the colors are vivid, there are no compression issues or anything wrong with the transfer, but it is not something you will use to show off your HDTV either. Likewise, the audio is clear without any fidelity issues, but there's no dynamic effects, so your surround sound speakers will be underused.

There's good news and bad news when it comes to the price. The good news, the list prices for the DVD and the Blu-ray are identical. The bad news, right now the discount on the Blu-ray is just 4% compared to 33% for the DVD. If that changes to the point where they have the same discount, then the Blu-ray is clearly the better deal. However, paying more than 40% more is a bit much to ask for a film like this.

The Verdict

Ruby Sparks is an excellent movie that boosts a great script and great performances. It is certainly worth checking out. I am a little disappointed by the extras on the DVD and the Blu-ray, but it is still worth picking up. Just keep an eye on the price before making the leap to high definition.

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Filed under: Video Review, Ruby Sparks, Steve Coogan, Paul Dano, Elliott Gould, Zoe Kazan, Aasif Mandvi, Chris Messina, Alia Shawkat, Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris