I will always regard 2012 as a great year for writers, as far as the cinema was concerned.
It was the year where the often timid, secretive storytellers hiding behind computer screens were suddenly front and centre through films like The Sessions, The Raven, Seven Psychopaths and The Words (just to name a few), and thus allowed to show the world that even a life of making up stories can be as exciting as the life of an action hero. Just about every month, there was a new film out that had the wordsmiths as its hero (or in the case of The Master, its powerful villain)!
For me, the best “life of a writer” piece to come up from this 12 month long era (and no doubt many film lovers and literature nuts will agree with me) was Ruby Sparks – the second film from Little Miss Sunshine (2006) directors, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris.
Inspired by the myth of Pygmalion, Ruby Sparks tells the story of Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano), a young novelist who achieved phenomenal success early in his career, but is now struggling with his writing, as well as his romantic life. Inspired by the advice of his therapist, Calvin decides to try and cure his writer’s block by deliberately writing a bad short story. The exercise leads to Calvin having a breakthrough as he creates a free-spirited character named Ruby Sparks, who he begins to fall in love with as he writes about her more and more. A week later, Calvin wakes one morning to find Ruby (Zoe Kazan – who also served as the film’s screenwriter) in the flesh, sitting on his couch, and apparently dating him. He is at first flabbergasted that his words have turned into a living, breathing human being; but once he gets over his shock, he takes advantage of Ruby’s sudden appearance, and begins a relationship with her, albeit a tremulous one.
For those with an undying love of writing (like yours truly), the film is an absolute treat. It’s a whimsical yet warts-and-all portrayal of an author’s creative process, showing how magical and challenging the task of writing the next great masterpiece can be. It’s a beautiful look at what it’s like to be a writer, exploring the fears, tragedies, and many highs of the job, bringing humanity and acknowledgement to a lifestyle that is often overlooked or dismissed as boring. For many writers (established and emerging), it’s great to see a film that gives them a voice and a sympathetic representation on the silver screen.
And even if you’re not a writer, or don’t have plans to be one, the film is still great to watch. It offers so much more than just being a three cheers to the creators of literature. It’s a flick that can be enjoyed by all!
The cast are perhaps the best troupe of actors to ever be assembled for a film.
As individual performers, they give it their all, and create the most lovable, memorable and rounded characters to ever appear in cinema. Dano and Kazan are ravishing to watch as Calvin and Zoe, displaying a chemistry and on-screen presence as beautifully powerful and tragic as the romance of Romeo and Juliet, or the sonnets of Lord Byron. Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, Chris Messina, and Toni Trucks are absolutely delightful as Calvin’s eccentric family, making you wish that you could jump into the cinema or TV screen (or wherever you watch this) and join them in their fun and games, or just to simply hang out with them and grab some nachos with. And to accompany the great group of players, we are treated to funny-as-hell cameos from Steve Coogan, Aasif Mandvi, Elliott Gould and Alia Shawkat.
As an ensemble, the cast work marvellously together. They all create a noticeable close knit, family vibe throughout the film, bouncing off each other and complimenting each other’s performances, clearly having the time of their lives. Off-screen, the cast undoubtedly enjoyed one another’s company, and were inspired to give it 110% whenever it came time to shoot their scenes. On-screen, they are full of overwhelming enthusiasm.
Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris are equally enthusiastic when it came to the creation of their opus. They bring incredible energy and positivity to their job as filmmakers, and the end results become a testament to how far a motion picture can go when you allow fun and bliss onto the movie set.
Zoe Kazan’s screenplay is also an impressive piece of work. Her script is a wonderful, well-paced story that has colourful characters and lots and lots of heart, both in its portrayal of love, and its portrayal of the writing life. As well as being a great thespian, she is an even greater storyteller. I would love to see more of her writing chops. She should take a page out of Noel Coward’s or Harold Pinter’s books and be both a writer and actor, instead of her current career as actor and occasional writer. Please Zoe: Don’t let your literary skills go to waste.
Ruby Sparks is a beautiful, uplifting film from a time when cinematic portrayals of writers were more popular than cinematic remakes, and it continues to entertain six years on. It’s a film that everyone can enjoy; writers will enjoy it for its respect and sympathy towards writers, and general lovers of movies will love it for its heart-warming story, its cast, and its enthusiasm. A definite must watch.
Paul Dano (Calvin Weir-Fields) and Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks) have been a couple since 2007.