After 6 years of false starts and abandoned projects, directors/husband-wife-duo Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris have finally returned with a follow-up to their hit debut “Little Miss Sunshine.” The film shares a star in Paul Dano, is released by the same studio (Fox Searchlight) who turned ‘Sunshine’ into a late summer hit and eventual Oscar winner and looks cute enough. So why has “Ruby Sparks” arrived with so little fanfare? The premise is basically an indie-fied “Weird Science” with Dano’s Woody Allen-ish protagonist Calvin falling in love with his creation. Calvin is a novelist struggling to write a follow-up his well regarded first novel and at the suggestion of his therapist (Elliott Gould), begins a writing exercise that leads him to create the fictional Ruby (Zoe Kazan, who wrote also wrote the screenplay). But faster than you can say ‘only in the movies,’ Ruby suddenly appears in his apartment causing Calvin to freak out. Only he’s not crazy because other people can see her too including his brother (Chris Messina) who tells him to just go with it.
So the film proceeds with the neurotic Calvin falling head over heels for the quirky, flighty, (I’m just going to say it) Manic Pixie Dream Girl Ruby. It’s as you’d imagine it would be, occasionally charming, grating at times and you definitely feel like you’ve maybe seen this movie before. And then something interesting happens and the film reveals what its true intentions. Ruby starts asserting her independence, going out a little, making friends, and Calvin gets jealous. So he starts making changes to her and things get a bit darker from there. Not all of what proceeds works necessarily but it definitely gives you something to think about and it becomes a much more interesting film in the second half. But by that point it might be too late. The characters are all painted in broad strokes, not just Ruby and Calvin but also his family (Annette Bening & Antonio Banderas), blowhard novelist Langdon Tharp (Steve Coogan) and pretty much everyone else. A scene in which Calvin comes face to face with his ex (Deborah Ann Woll) hints at a more emotionally mature film lurking underneath this shiny indie.