The directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris have returned to the spotlight to promote their latest creation, a movie called ‘Ruby Sparks’. The excitement surrounding their reappearance is understandable, given the success of their last film, ‘Little Miss Sunshine’, which earned two Oscars, two BAFTAs, a score of other international and American film awards, and even a place within that hallowed volume, ‘1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die’.
Although built upon the quintessential road movie formula, ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ gives the genre its own subversive twist. All road movies are about people following their dreams, but few look so openly and unflinchingly upon the reality of failure. And yet ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ portrays this reality without bitterness; the failures of the main characters are never minimized or sugarcoated by false sentimentality, but neither are they allowed to weigh down the atmosphere of the movie to the point of heavy tragedy. In this sense, ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ could be seen as the successful completion of a tricky balancing act, between comedy and tragedy, fantasy and realism, family drama and zany farce. Both the characters and the predicaments in which they find themselves are extreme enough to always be teetering on the brink of the improbable. In ‘Ruby Sparks’ however, that line appears to be finally breached.
But then again, improbability might be the point of the movie. Much of the trailer seems to be spent marveling at the unlikelihood of the scenario; a geeky, bumbling, Woody Allen-esque writer finds inspiration through the creation of a female character, who one day magically appears to him in the flesh. Fortunately for him, this is not a darkly ironic, be-careful-what-you-wish-for type of story; the two of them fall in love, apparently unimpeded by her fictitious nature. In fact, the whole story appears to suffer from a strange lack of impediments; one can’t help waiting for that inevitable ‘but’ moment, waiting for all those slow motion, soft-focus moments of euphoria to cease and the real conflict of the story to begin. But those moments of euphoria appear to be all there is; having recovered from the shock of her existence, the two have a great time doing all the things that reckless young couples are supposed to do, like speeding down the freeway, dancing in clubs, writhing around in swimming pools, and having jolly little get-togethers with in-laws. Granted, there may emerge some overwhelming obstacle to their relationship that the marketers, in an unfortunate oversight, forgot to include in the trailer; perhaps his magic typewriter breaks and he can’t create her any more, perhaps he loses his glasses and can no longer read his manuscript, perhaps he can’t get her to speak English again after making her French.
Contrast this with the approach taken by the spookily similar trailer to the movie ‘Stranger than Fiction’; it too features writer’s block, a character brought to life, and the shock of a creator meeting their creation. The difference is that the trailer introduces a seemingly irresolvable problem; the main character, one IRS agent by the name of Harold Crick, hears the narrating voice of his author-creator announce his imminent demise. From that point onwards, making contact with his author becomes a matter of life and death, in a complex play between the contradictory values of reality and fiction. The movie maintains sympathy for Harold and involvement in his struggles, while never quite forgetting the surrealism of the entire situation; ‘Ruby Sparks’, by contrast, seems curiously enamored of its own fantasy, as if it would like to forget about the impossibility of its premise, forget that Ruby is basically a construction, and just let itself be carried away by ‘the magic of falling in love’. Falling in love is indeed magical, but is the kind of magic that has graced our movie screens a few times before. There is nothing like originality to give a character a real, living presence; without it, Ruby Sparks might as well never have left the author’s head.