Calvin and the Real Girl

5 Aug

In the new film Ruby Sparks, the main character, Calvin (Paul Dano), does what so many lonely, nerdy writers wish we — I mean they could do: He creates a character who becomes real.

But not just any character … A real, live girlfriend.

A dream girl who is perfect in every way.

That’s the fanciful Stranger than Fiction meets Adaptation meets Bride of Frankenstein meets Annie Hall premise of the latest big-screen creation from Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the directors of Little Miss Sunshine.

Written by Zoe Kazan, who also plays the title character, the film tells the story of Calvin, who received wild acclaim and best-seller status for a book he wrote as a teen, and now struggles with agonizing writer’s block. One night he dreams of a girl, and inspired, he starts writing about her. And writing. And writing.

So you can imagine his surprise — and happiness — when there she is, in his house, exactly as he’d imagined her. But it’s even better than that: Calvin can control her, so if, say, he’d like her to be fluent in French, he can write that, and voila! elle parle Français.

(Calvin’s brother, played by the ubiquitous and always good Chris Messina, wants him to give Ruby bigger breasts. On that he passes.)

Kazan’s screenplay explores, with humor and insight, what the limits of such control are. As Ruby becomes more and more real, and less and less what Calvin had in mind, he grapples with just how much he wants her to be true to herself and how much he wants to change her, just because he can.

Dayton and Faris do wonderful things with Kazan’s words, never letting the film spiral into screwball territory, and always keeping its heart front and center.

But don’t expect a completely happy, jolly movie; Ruby Sparks has an edge to it, and there’s one scene in particular, when Calvin lets his control issues get the better of him, that packs a stunning, heartbreaking emotional wallop.

Not surprisingly, Kazan gives a pitch-perfect performance that’s equal parts adorkable, sweet, tough, and vulnerable.

And of course, it helps that she has real chemistry with Dano, the star of such movies as There Will Be Blood and Little Miss Sunshine. (They’re a real-life couple, if you didn’t know, and have been together for five years.) This will surely be Kazan’s breakout, after smaller parts in such films as It’s Complicated and Revolutionary Road. I look forward to seeing her again soon.

Ruby Sparks, despite its fantasy-based plot, tells a story filled with real, human emotion about the price we pay for seeking a perfect partner and relationship. Is there such a thing? Probably not. But a perfect movie about the subject? Ruby Sparks sure does come close.

I really enjoyed this one. I’m giving Ruby Sparks an A–.

2 Responses to “Calvin and the Real Girl”


  1. 2012 Was a Masterful Year for the Movies « Martin's Musings - December 21, 2012

    […] Ruby Sparks This film — directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, and written by star Zoe Kazan — […]

  2. That’s Why They Call It Love | Martin's Musings - July 3, 2017

    […] Sick begins, he meets an American woman named Emily (Zoe Kazan, writer and star of the excellent Ruby Sparks), and the two start […]

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