What to watch when you’ve already watched everything Part Two! Binge worthy, not cringe worthy recommendations from Isolation Studios in the eerily quiet downtown Toronto. Three movie choices to stream, rent or buy that will help fill the minutes until we can comfortably cough in public once again. And no, “Electric Boogaloo” is not one of the selections.
“Ruby Sparks,” a new fantasy from indie darlings Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan uses an ancient story—the Greek myth of Pygmalion who fell in love with one of his creations, only to have her to come to life—as inspiration to explore an the even older issue of how men and women relate to one another.
How would you react if you could create the perfect woman? That’s a question Calvin (Paul Dano) must debate in this gentle romantic comedy. He is a blocked writer who peaked with his first book, a novel he wrote at the age of nineteen. Socially awkward and uncomfortable with his fame he creates a relationship with one of his characters, Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan). He falls in love with his quirky character–“It’s almost like I’m writing to spend time with her,” he says—spending days writing about her until slowly fiction becomes reality. “You manifested a woman in your mind?” his brother (Chris Messina) says incredulously, “Mom’s gonna freak!”
Written by star Zoe Kazan and directed by “Little Miss Sunshine” directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, “Ruby Sparks” is a refreshing wisp of fantasy that grounds itself in reality as much as possible. It asks questions—how do you react when you can control every move your creation makes?—and builds a real relationship between a lonely writer and his “creation.”
Dano and Kazan, a couple in real life, bring great chemistry along with acting chops, and elevate a story that might have become a grungy male fantasy in the hands of Judd Apatow or the like, into a sweetly observed look at the nature of loneness and love.
“I keep saying, ‘We have a baby,’” says Zoe Kazan. “Her name is Ruby Sparks.”
But don’t send over hand-me-down baby clothes just yet. Ruby Sparks is the name of the movie Kazan wrote, stars in and produced with her co-star and real-life partner Paul Dano.
The romantic fantasy about a lonely writer who creates a character, only to have her come to life, is the result of years of work for the couple who met on the set of another movie, Meek’s Cutoff.
“I think it is not unlike that,” she says, continuing her baby metaphor. “You’re doing something incredible stressful. You’re not sleeping. The things matters so much to you and you love it but your relationship is suffering a little for it. You’re not having as much sex as you used to.”
Dano says, “We went through something together. Something very intimate, challenging, something we really cared about. Certainly we learned something about each other going through it and after it. When we were at work we both care so much about what we do we were focused on the job. I wasn’t thinking about us. It was very easy to go to work together. Driving home from work wasn’t always easy.”
Kazan, a Yale graduate whose grandfather was legendary filmmaker Elia Kazan, disagrees, “I actually think the preproduction time was harder in some ways.
“We were both pushing the rock up the hill. It’s really hard to get an independent film made these days and we were doing a lot of collaborative effort long before the movie started shooting.
“We’re actually used to not spending that much time together,” she continues, “and missing each other a lot so to have that concentrated period of time where all our energy was going into the same thing, and that same thing wasn’t the relationship, I think that was more difficult than I had anticipated.
“But on the other hand I love Paul’s work ethic and the way he thinks about his work. Those are the things I find really attractive about him. So I was also interfacing with a person I love at a level I really enjoy.”
Dano adds that making the movie with Zoe revealed the script had “more depth than even I anticipated. The scenes took on a life that I didn’t fully anticipate. Probably personal feelings came to it as well.”