Love is both the simplest and most complex of human emotions. We fall into it so easily, and it can take us to dizzying, indescribable highs and, if and when it ends, to bottomless lows. But the remarkable thing is that most of us are able to recover, and begin that search all over again. We look for that person who will, to borrow a movie cliché, complete us, but what happens if one day that perfect companion literally appears out of thin air? And what if that person has every quality you would want in a partner? That’s the question at the heart of the whimsical “Ruby Sparks,” the long awaited new film from “Little Miss Sunshine” directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, led by real life couple Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan, the latter of whom wrote the script.
The story tells the tale of frustrated writer Calvin (Dano), who is struggling with penning a second novel, when a writing exercise from his therapist finds him typing reams of pages about Ruby (Kazan) — who one day appears in his kitchen. And as Kazan told us in an interview last week, the idea for the movie itself appeared just as unexpectedly. “One night I was coming from work and there was a mannequin discarded in the trash and I thought it was a person, it scared me. And I immediately…got a picture of Pygmalion — and the sculpture in his dark studio — turning his head and thinking he saw the statue move,” she said. “Something about that picture triggered something in me and I woke up the next morning and I had Calvin and Ruby in my head. The first ten pages of the movie were there and I wrote them down and then I sort of realized I was after something more meaningful or deeper than just a broad romantic comedy, and so I put it away for a little while until I had a better sense of what I was really writing about, and then I wrote it really quickly.”
The result is a charming, romantic, funny, magical realist film that is, at times, a very honest and sober look at the dynamics that play out in a relationship. As Calvin and Ruby spend more and more time together, the things they admired at first about each other become the elements that drive them apart. And it’s that interaction that fascinated Kazan as she approached the script. “I guess I’ve always been interested in what happens behind closed doors, what happens with men and women in particular — because I’m a straight girl — what happens in relationships for anyone,” she explained. “I think love relationships are interesting. They’re like these incredibly profound relationships that you’re not born into, that you create, and they can be undone in a matter of seconds for no reason at all. People putting their heart out there is something that’s very moving to me, it piques my curiosity.”
But of course, “Ruby Sparks” is no ordinary relationship film, toeing the lines between fantasy, romance and comedy equally, in a very unique screenplay. And Kazan acknowledges that the script could have been much broader, playing up the more imaginative portions of the story. “I was tempted to have [Calvin] teach [Ruby] in lots of ways, and have more fun with that…[but] I realized I didn’t want to write the broad comedy version,” she said. “There’s a different version of this movie that’s more like ‘Click‘ or ‘Bruce Almighty,’ and as much fun as those movies can be, I was after a bigger game. Romantic comedies that really move me are movies like ‘Tootsie‘ or ‘Groundhog Day‘ or ‘Eternal Sunshine [Of The Spotless Mind]‘ or ‘When Harry Met Sally‘ that are about something a little bit deeper. Those are the movies that I feel like I return to again and again, because they seem to me to speak to something really real about what actually happens between men and women.”
And again it circles back to that core idea, of men and women, and how those dynamics of power and gender play out when positioned in a relationship. It’s a lot of moods to balance and carry, but Kazan knew she had the right helmers in Dayton and Faris. Not only did they strive for the same ultimate goals, even if their perspectives on love were different — Kazan says she’s more cynical, while the directors are more romantic — but they also made involved and comfortable collaborators.
“Number one, they’re a couple, and they’re going to bring that masculine and feminine perspective to the movie. And two, I just so admired their first movie and how they maintained this very delicate tone. And I feel like they really look to Hal Ashby as an influence, and for me he’s sort of the kind of being able to make something funny and sad and true and human all at once, and I think that they are really capable of that, so that’s definitely what we were after,” Kazan told us about working with the directorial duo, adding: “…when I started working with them, almost immediately I felt like, whether or not we see the exact same movie, we want to make basically the same kind of movie. It made it easier to listen to them and feel open to their suggestions and to work hard to find a common ground.”
Of course, the inevitable question is how it was working with her boyfriend, Paul Dano, in a situation and job that brings with it long hours and stress, in a movie about unpredictable relationships. “Making a movie together the way that we did is a little bit like having newborn baby. Nobody is getting enough sleep, nobody is getting enough sex, there’s something outside of the relationship that seems more important than the relationship, and all your energy is going to toward it,” Kazan shared candidly. “It was definitely a challenge, but one I would do again in a heartbeat.”
“Ruby Sparks” opens on July 25th.