Romantic comedies are full of quirky, flighty women who disrupt the lives of timid, uptight men and show them the wonders of life via montages set to indie rock, and you can find such a montage around the midpoint of Ruby Sparks, which stars Zoe Kazan as the quirky, flighty title character and Paul Dano as timid, uptight Calvin, whose life she disrupts. The difference is that Ruby Sparks is interested in exposing the rom-com flibbertigibbet as an untenable, unrealistic male fantasy, since Ruby is in fact a creation of Calvin’s imagination come inexplicably to life.
A blocked novelist whose one major success is now a decade in the past, Calvin literally dreams up Ruby and starts writing about her, only to discover her in the flesh one day, hanging out in his kitchen making breakfast. Once he accepts that Ruby is real, Calvin is at first elated to be united with his dream girl, but as Ruby begins asserting her own independent identity, the idealized dream girl starts to turn into a nightmare (that is, she becomes a real person with real emotions).
Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine) and screenwriter/star Kazan gradually reveal the desperate, possessive rage underneath Calvin’s milquetoast lit-hipster exterior, simultaneously poking holes in the narcissistic fantasies of decades of indie-movie man-boys. The movie pulls its punches a little with a muddled ending that lets Calvin off the hook too easily, but the majority of the film is an incisive, funny and well-acted look at the messy complications of even the most seemingly picture-perfect relationships.