After the success of Little Miss Sunshine, which earned a pair of Oscars and was enormously profitable at the box office, it's surprising that co-directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris waited six years to release another film. Hollywood being what it is, though, they were attached to a number of projects that didn't come together, and now they've finally returned to theaters with Ruby Sparks, a little romantic dramedy that has some similarities to Sunshine but is a darker picture. The directors say that this one coming together was a great experience, especially with so many misfires over the years.
"Everything started to line up," Dayton tells CityBeat. "It came with two stars that we love, and we really liked the script."
The stars are Zoe Kazan, who's also the screenwriter, and Paul Dano, her real-life boyfriend, whose career took off after his turn in Sunshine. The screenplay is Kazan's first, and while the idea of placing that first screenplay in someone else's hands sounds scary, Kazan says she was thrilled to do it.
"It wasn't a question of whether to turn it over, but to whom," she says. "Jonathan and Valerie were the first people I thought of, and they were the first people that Paul thought of. It seemed iffy that they would come on, because they'd been offered so much higher-profile stuff since Little Miss Sunshine, but we decided to send it to them. When they started talking to me about it, I immediately knew that we had made the right decision, because they saw the same movie that I saw, and they were going to make it better."
"What worked about this process was that Zoe was very trusting," Faris says. "Once we were shooting it, it just felt like her job was done as a writer. We were all working toward the same goal, and it was just a very healthy relationship."
In Ruby Sparks—which opens Friday, Aug. 3, at Hillcrest Cinemas and AMC La Jolla—Dano plays Calvin Weir-Fields, a wealthy young man whose success and unhappiness stem from a Catcher in the Rye-esque novel he wrote a decade earlier. He's had a long dry spell as a writer, though, and it's only when he starts writing the character of Ruby Sparks, a beautiful free spirit, that he starts to feel alive again. Pounding away on his typewriter keys (yes, the fact that he's old-school is somewhat precious), he gets to know her, and in his mind, she starts to become almost real to him. And then, one day, she actually does (played by Kazan).
Sure, having the perfect companion suddenly appear sounds great, but it's never that simple. We're willing to overlook faults in the throes of infatuation, but we, conscious or not, try to change our partners to better suit us over time. Most of us get pushback, but in Calvin's case, he can control every part of Ruby. When she starts to get fed up with him, he rewrites her. When that backfires, he returns to the typewriter, over and over, until his need to control Ruby completely dominates the relationship. Whether you see that as story or metaphor doesn't matter—Ruby Sparks has a bit of magic to it, something that's warm, sad and slightly indefinable, qualities that were also present in Little Miss Sunshine.
What the movie doesn't have, however, is an explanation as to why Ruby becomes flesh, and that'll be a problem for some audiences. But, Kazan says, coming up with a justification would be little more than a convenient excuse. And she sees a parallel between the movie and real life.
"I don't mean to sound zany about this," she says, "but I had the idea for this movie in our little studio apartment in Brooklyn and wrote down some words, and now there's a thing that people will see across the country. If that's not magic, I don't know what is."
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