By Mark Saldana

Rating: 4 (Out of 4 Stars)

Meeting the right mate rarely comes with ease.  Honestly, there is no such thing as the perfect match.  As people are inherently flawed, our issues will always cause conflict in relationships, some worse than others.  Written by actress Zoe Kazan (Revolutionary Road), and directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine), Ruby Sparks tells a fantastic tale of a once bright and talented author struggling with depression and writer’s block, but really is a story of making romantic relationships work, despite people’s issues. Kazan not only offers an outstanding script, but also a show stopping performance as the title character.  This movie really feels like a labor of love from Kazan.  Because of this, her ability to convey these thoughts and feelings on paper, and through her acting, Ruby Sparks should be considered one of the best films of this year.

Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) has not written a successful novel since his celebrated debut at a very young age.  He lives alone, struggling to write, occasionally spending time with his brother Harry (Chris Messina) and keeping his appointments with his therapist Dr. Rosenthal (Elliott Gould). Calvin begins to dream of an adorable and vibrant young woman named Ruby.  He begins to write about her at the encouragement of Rosenthal.  As he begins to flesh out her story, Ruby eventually shows up at his home in the flesh.  All seems wonderful and perfect at first; however, Calvin’s neuroses and Ruby’s own imperfections begin to surface causing conflicts within the relationship.  Hoping to return to the honeymoon stage of the relationship, Calvin decides to take control of the situation and continues writing about Ruby with insanely mixed results.

I knew very little about Kazan, other than her roles in Revolutionary Road and Meek’s Cutoff, but after this movie, I will never forget her.  Not only is she an adorably attractive young lady, she has such tremendous talent in acting as well as writing.  I must sincerely applaud her work in this film.  The screenplay for this movie is absolutely incredible.  Instead of a somewhat formulaic romantic comedy I expected, I sat in the theater thoroughly engaged and entertained. Kazan has a wonderfully quirky and witty sense of humor and it really shows here.  Directors Dayton and Farris also do some lovely work here bringing this excellent story to life.  This is their first feature since their acclaimed debut Little Miss Sunshine, another film I truly adored.  I want to see these gifted filmmakers get more work!

I have already praised Kazan enough, so I will share some love for the main cast members who all offer performances worthy of superlatives as well.  Since Miss Sunshine, I have been a fan of Paul Dano.  I particularly enjoyed his tour-de-force performance as a church pastor in There Will Be Blood.  Again, the young actor does not disappoint.  He perfectly captures the shy, sweet, delicate, yet controlling, traits of his character.  Dano makes Calvin feel real and genuine, displaying the likable and ugly aspects of this person.  Chris Messina brings some comic relief as the less sensitive, “tell it like it is” brother Harry.  Annette Benning makes a fun and lovable appearance as Calvin’s “new age” mother Gertrude.  Antonio Banderas had me laughing heartily as the almost too perfect and big hearted step-father Mort. Sparksalso features some hilarious cameos by Alia Shawat (Arrested Development) as groupie fan Mabel and Steve Coogan as douche-bag author Langdon Tharp.

Even though we have passed the half-way point of the year, four months of movies still remain.  However, at this point, Ruby Sparks is certainly one of my top ten favorite movies this year.  With just the right mix of comedy, drama, heartbreak, fantasy and reality, it truly is refreshing to enjoy a solidly written romantic comedy that refuses to use the typical cliché cookie cutter that films of this genre often do.  I must highly recommend it as THE date movie to see this year. Zoe Kazan deserves a standing ovation and I hope to see more of her in movies and in the writing credits of more films.

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