In classical mythology, the sculptor Pygmalion fell in love with a beautiful statue he created which – by the grace of the Gods – came to life. That theme inspired George Bernard Shaw’s play “Pygmalion” and formed the basis of the musical “My Fair Lady.”
Inspired by that theme, actress/writer Zoe Kazan (granddaughter of director Elia Kazan) indulges in some magical realism in this quirky, witty, romantic fable about a contemporary Los Angeles novelist, played by her current, real-life boyfriend Paul Dano, which is briskly and delightfully directed by the husband-and-wife team, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who scored with “Little Miss Sunshine” back in 2006.
Having achieved early acclaim, neurotic literary prodigy Calvin Weir-Fields (Dano) is not only recovering from a painful long-term relationship break-up but he’s also suffering from acute writer’s block. When he envisions saucy, red-headed Ruby Sparks (Kazan) during a walk in the park with his dog Scotty (named after F. Scott Fitzgerald), he follows a suggestion from his psychiatrist, Dr. Rosenthal (Elliot Gould), and develops a full-fledged story about this idealized young woman, making her into a talented painter from Dayton, Ohio. In the midst of Calvin’s creative frenzy, his concerned older brother Harry (Chris Messina) discovers bits of female lingerie scattered about his stark, minimalist Hollywood Hills bachelor pad. Bewildered, Calvin claims no knowledge of them – until, one morning, he finds effervescent yet ethereal Ruby cooking breakfast in his kitchen. Confused and convinced he’s hallucinating – like Elwood P. Dowd in “Harvey” – he’s stunned when they go out and others can see Ruby too. After a visit with his disarmingly free-spirited, widowed mother (Annette Bening) and her furniture-making, live-in lover (Antonio Banderas) in Big Sur, where Ruby begins to assert her independence, ambivalent Calvin comprehends that he can change and control Ruby by simply rewriting her. Talk about masculine manipulation!
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Ruby Sparks” is a humorous, slyly sentimental 7. Or, as the Dalai Lama once said: “Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.”