Saturday, April 5, 2014
RUBY SPARKS and the Creation of Characters (and People?)
I remember seeing a few trailers for the film Ruby Sparks shortly before it was released in the summer of 2012--but for some reason we didn't see it. The data on IMDB show that it didn't do all that much box office, and what probably happened: We thought we'd see it, then put it off one week too many. And it was gone. But it's on HBO On-Demand now, so we watched it the last couple of nights (Wed & Thurs). And liked it, mostly. It made me laugh, feel uncomfortable (very uncomfortable in places--I actually like that), and think. A good combination.
I'll tell you a little about it--if you haven't seen it--but won't give away any more than the the trailers did. (Link to trailer via YouTube.)
Paul Dano plays a young writer, Calvin Weir-Fields, who had a popular bestseller a few years before but has not done much since. His agent and publisher are getting a little anxious (another great comic turn, by the way, by Steve Coogan, who plays his oily, duplicitous writer-"friend"). He has a couple of dreams about a young girl, who eventually tells him that her name is Ruby Sparks. He writes about her (on a typewriter!), and soon some weird things are happening: Articles of female, uh, attire are in his dresser drawers, for example. His brother (a married man still deep in his adolescence) is ... curious. Does my lonely bro have a GF?
Anyway, the more he writes, the more "real" Ruby becomes for him. And then, of course, one day she (Zoe Kazan, who wrote the script--and is also the granddaughter of the great Elia Kazan) is actually there. In his apartment. He freaks out (naturally), though she seems perfectly at home. The rest of the film deals with the sorts of things you would expect. Can other people see Ruby? etc. Calvin also discovers that whatever he types about Ruby immediately becomes true. Example: He writes that she speaks fluent French--and immediately she does.
Complications ensue, and Calvin takes a long, long time to discover how to love someone. (By the way--nice to see Elliot Gould again, here playing Calvin's shrink. And other funny turns by Antonio Banderas and Annette Bening; she plays his mom; Banderas, her new BF.) The story turns uncomfortably nasty toward the end--which is probably why it wasn't all that popular: American film audiences don't generally like "uncomfortably nasty" in love stories.
On one level, of course, the plot is about how writers bring characters to life (duh). Many biographies I've read about novelists confirm this: Writers often talk about how their characters become more and more real, more and more insistent about what they do in the story.
But it's also--on a more personal level--about how all of us "create" the people we're with--and about what happens when those real people don't always behave/think the way they're "supposed to" in the version we've created. (Is this making sense?) I'm guessing this is a reason that many relationships implode, by the way. Mr. A. has a vision of who Ms. B. is (and vice-versa), and when Ms. B. drifts (or sprints) outside the boundaries of that vision, trouble usually follows. The film reminds us that this is immature. All of us are creating ourselves as we go along--and often that creation doesn't fit with the vision of us that others have. But, says they film, you'll never truly love until you're able to accept the other person's creation as more true than yours of him or her.
So far, so good. But, of course, there are times when friends, family members, loved ones stray so far from what we envision that we are incapable of continuing our relationship with them. "Yes," we say, "you're free to be who you are. But if you're too distant from my vision of you--of us--well, ... it ain't gonna work out."
This is what's so profoundly hard about relationships--accepting the differences between the dream and the reality. Love requires that we continually expand our visions to accommodate the realities of our lovers.
And Ruby Sparks--not a great film, but a good one--does a fine job of showing us what happens when our dreams are too rigid, too inflexible.
(By the end--no real spoiler--Calvin has an MacBook. Progress!)