'Ruby Sparks' Has Plenty of Spark and Lots of Heart

[caption id="attachment_138600" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Fox Searchlight"]Zoe Kazan and Paul Dano in "Ruby Sparks"[/caption]

When news broke that Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris had finally picked a project to follow up their Academy Award-winning feature film debut "Little Miss Sunshine," you can bet that more than a few eyebrows were raised. Sure their indie smash was a totally disarming winner, but their breakout film was made a whopping six years ago — and since then they've released zilch.

Well get those eyebrows back in check, because as luck would have it, their sophomore feature "Ruby Sparks" proves that the duo still have the magic touch. It also helps that they're aided by the wonderfully accomplished (and first) screenplay by actress Zoe Kazan, who also stars in the romantic comedy alongside her long-term off-screen boyfriend, Paul Dano.

In "Ruby Sparks," Dano plays Calvin, a wildly successful author experiencing a slump of epic proportions at the film's outset. Enter Ruby, a fictional character Calvin dreams up, who just happens to be his total dream girl: a raven-haired, wide-grinning beauty, with quirk to spare and a knack for cooking. Inspired by his latest concoction, Calvin begins to write again, only to one morning discover that his creation has been brought to life via his writing. Yeah, you read that right. Even better — anything he writes, she does.

Calvin is, of course, lost for words. Once he comes around to the reality of his surreal predicament (with the help of his cocky brother, played by the reliably smarmy Chris Messina), he does the unthinkable — he lets her be. But once Ruby shows hints of wanting to stray away from the relationship, Calvin keeps her in check by controlling her feelings for him with the help of his trusty (and magical?) typewriter.

If this all sounds high concept, it is. While the casual moviegoer will no doubt draw parallels between "Ruby Sparks" and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" for their fantastical approach to telling a love story, "Ruby Sparks" differs by being less off the rails and more sweet. Despite its wacky concept, the film is remarkably grounded in the real world.

It should go as no surprise that Dano and Kazan have wonderfully engaging chemistry. Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas pop up midway as Calvin's earth-loving parents and nearly threaten to steal the entire movie from the winning leads, but they vanish as soon as they appear.

Like "Little Miss Sunshine," "Ruby Sparks" was tailor-made to charm the pants off of audiences, but unlike that Sundance phenomenon, "Ruby Sparks" has some sly tricks up its sleeve. Kazan attempts a high-wire act with her screenwriting debut by telling a love story like no other that lays bare some ugly truths about the power struggle inherent in any relationship. That she succeeds (with the help of Dayton and Faris) is nothing short of a movie miracle.