Directors: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris.
Screenplay: Zoe Kazan.
Starring: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, Steve Coogan, Chris Messina, Elliott Gould, Deborah Ann Woll, Toni Trucks, Aasif Mandvi, Alia Shawkat.
After 6 years, husband-and-wife directing team Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris deliver their long-awaited follow-up to the brilliant “Little Miss Sunshine“. It would seem that the director’s were in no rush to emulate their previous, Oscar winning, success; preferring instead to wait for the right script. It would also seem that that time has now come and it’s, certainly, been worth the wait.
Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) is struggling writer who once wrote a ‘genius’ novel when he was 19 years old. The trouble is, he’s now struggling for material and suffers from writer’s-block. On the advice of his therapist (Elliott Gould), he begins to write about a girl that has been appearing in his dreams: Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan). The next day, Ruby becomes a real person and they both strike up a beautiful and loving relationship. What Calvin then realises is, that if he can will her into existence by writing about her, then he can change her at any time and make her do what he wants by writing more.
Not many films built around romance have had the audacity to explore the very nature of love itself and the stipulations that seemingly come with it. It’s a genre I’m not fond of but that’s only because most are catered for the masses. This film dares to explore the complexities of a relationship and the stipulations that both sides make. It questions whether we can really love a person, wholeheartedly, without their indiscretions ever becoming irritating or intolerable. It also addresses the nature of dominance within a relationship and how that, in itself, is destructive.
Therein lies the beauty and honesty of this film; it’s not afraid to pose these questions and it’s also not afraid to explore the darker elements to it’s premise or get it’s hands dirty when it needs to. After a gentler, more romantic-comedy beginning, filled with wonderful touches of light and observational humour, the denouement takes a brave, impressive and twisted dramatic turn, that shows the darker side to the fantasy. Wisely, the film’s fantasy premise is never explained. This may irk some viewers but really, the film wouldn’t have gained anything by trying to break it down. Quite frankly, it just wouldn’t have worked but that’s testament to the filmmakers, the terrific ensemble of actors and most importantly Zoe Kazan’s highly original screenplay as they all have you believing in them, even when you know you shouldn’t. Once you’ve accepted the premise, you can sit back and enjoy the excellent performances all round; Dano, once again, displays his more than capable acting chops with a character that is often, and cleverly, likened to writer J.D. Salinger and wonderful comic-relief comes in the form of Bening and Banderas as new-age hippie parents. The biggest surprise is from the screenwriter and eponymous Zoe Kazan though; she brings a real warmth and creativity that manages just the right balance and allows her to flit in-between moods with ease. Without such an endearing and understanding performance, the film wouldn’t have worked as well as it does.
With excellent performances all round, and a great mixture of humour and pathos this is one of 2012’s genuinely surprising highlights. Like “Little Miss Sunshine” before it, this is a real treat.