You already know this: Spend any amount of time in a relationship with anyone—friendship, professional, or otherwise—and you'll find something you want to change in them. He chews with his mouth open. She laughs too loudly. His emails are riddled with grammatical errors.

But of course, romance adds another layer of complexity—especially if you live with your significant other. Even the best relationship will lead, one day, to a desire to tweak, alter, modify a bit: maybe an annoying habit or attitude, maybe a physical feature, maybe a way of dealing with the world. And if you're dreaming about Mr. or Ms. Right, you're always putting together the perfect person in your head. Tall! Dark hair! Funny! Likes cats!

Paul Dano as Calvin

Paul Dano as Calvin

That's precisely where we find our hero, Calvin (Paul Dano), who published his first book at a too-early age and managed to rocket to the top of the bestseller lists. But that was ten years ago. Since then, he's done little more than write a few acclaimed short stories and have an explosively bad relationship. Now, he's been dreaming about a girl—literally dreaming about her—and he decides to write her into a book. Her name is Ruby Sparks, and she is from Iowa, and pretty, and funny, and knows how to cook. She's devoted and spunky and red-headed. His only friend, his brother Harry (Chris Messina), is amused by his adoration. Calvin starts pounding out a story about her on his typewriter.

And then one day he wakes up, and she's there. In the flesh. In his kitchen, cooking eggs and singing. Real, live Ruby Sparks.

Of course, the thing is that nobody, not even Ruby (played by Zoe Kazan, who also penned this screenplay) can live up to expectations. She cooks and she's spontaneous and playful, but she's also a real girlfriend, with needs and desires and a history that sometimes rubs up against Calvin's own past. It's not until (the perhaps unsubtly-named) Calvin realizes that he can change Ruby at will by rewriting her that things start to get sticky, and Calvin starts to wonder if his dream girl is better as his creation, or as a real, live girl.

Zoe Kazan as Ruby

Zoe Kazan as Ruby

What's fun about this movie is its magical realism, a new tact for co-directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (best known for the hilarious indie smash Little Miss Sunshine). Finding your dream girl sitting on your couch is—at minimum—unnerving, and Dayton and Faris play the surprise to its best advantage, letting the story spin out and leaving us just as incredulous, and then just as convinced, as Calvin and Harry.

Ruby Sparks also explores an important question: Would we actually be happier if we could bend the world to our will? It's a surprisingly theological consideration for a quirky comedy. Can finite humans play god without consequences? Can we create the "perfect" mate? How would we deal with the power to do that, and what does that tell us about God's attitude toward us—and about our beliefs about what would be best for us?

Sparks fly for Ruby and Calvin

Sparks fly for Ruby and Calvin

Of course, the movie doesn't answer these questions. But unfortunately, despite the best efforts of Dano and Kazan, it also has nowhere to go, at some point. It's a great setup with a heartbreaking climb to the climax—will Calvin exert his power over Ruby to make her bend to his will?—but an ultimately unsatisfying conclusion. Still, the film raises questions worth pondering. And we can hardly mind, when it's told with so much life and fun.

Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. Have you ever been in a relationship where you tried to change the other person? What happened? What did you learn from the experience?
  2. What are your expectations about how others treat you in relationships? What would you do if you found yourself in a relationship where you were asked to change? What bearing does 1 Corinthians 13:5 have on your attitude?
  3. Calvin shares his name with another person who contemplated choice and free will: John Calvin. How does Calvin's ability to change Ruby relate to John Calvin's ideas about God's sovereignty? What do you think about our ability to change?

The Family Corner

For parents to consider

Ruby Sparks is rated R for language including some sexual references, and for some drug use. The bad language includes a number of profanities, including the f-word and some crude euphemisms for female body parts. Unmarried characters live and sleep together.

Ruby Sparks
Our Rating
3 Stars - Good
Average Rating
(1 user ratings)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
R (for language including some sexual references, and for some drug use)
Directed By
Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Run Time
1 hour 44 minutes
Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Annette Bening
Theatre Release
September 06, 2012 by Fox Searchlight
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