Ruby Sparks, a film about writer's block, feels distressingly constipated.
Based on an original script by its female lead, Zoe Kazan, this second feature from Little Miss Sunshine directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris follows a depressed writer who falls in love with one of his characters. He develops an attraction so strong that he wills her literally to life. It's a promising conceit, but the movie leaves its most tantalizing aspects undeveloped.
Little Miss Sunshine veteran Paul Dano plays Calvin, a onetime literary prodigy now out of ideas. To comfort himself, he invents Ruby (Kazan), the timid, nebbishy author's projection of an ideal companion. He can make the purple-tights-wearing free spirit speak French fluently or write her a happiness so pure that it makes her bounce up and down on his bed. She's kittenish and sexy and, at first, she's a smart critique of the limited understanding and imagination that male writers often bring to female characters. But Kazan's script doesn't explore the hazards of idealization.
Worse, Dayton and Faris rely on heavy-handed emotional cues instead of letting the script's feeling and drama emerge naturally. The scenes in which Calvin realizes just how dangerous it is to make Ruby act only the way he wants come off as perfunctory and lacking in nuance. What starts as a smart deconstruction of cliché devolves into frustrating dumbness.