Ruby Sparks (2012)

As bright and likable as its titular lead, Ruby Sparks marks the triumphant return of Little Miss Sunshine co-directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton, who’ve not made a film in the six years since Sunshine nabbed two Oscars and a legion of fans. With its quirky narrative, Sparks recalls the very best of Woody Allen’s oeuvre (not least his recent Midnight In Paris), etching away at the inner workings of its romantic leads just as much as it observes their numerous trials and tribulations.

Paul Dano plays Calvin, an author who earned acclaim for his debut novel, but has been struggling for years to deliver his second work. Then he starts writing about a fictional girl called Ruby Sparks, who just so happens to be his ideal woman. Things take a turn for the weird, though, when Ruby (Zoe Kazan) appears in Calvin’s apartment one day, as if she’s always been there. Is he losing his mind? Or has he just managed to create an entire new person?

Like Little Miss Sunshine, Sparks is an indie comedy that’s as enamoured with making you laugh as it is getting under the skin of its lead characters. Inspired by the Greek Pygmalion myth – a sculptor falls in love with his sculptures – Sparks explores its nifty premise with intelligence and wit, examining the responsibility we have for those we love, and the danger of attempting to control them.

The cast is also a delight, with Kazan (who wrote the film’s script) delivering one of the freshest performances of the year. Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas also offer show-stopping support as Calvin’s hippie parents. It’s the chemistry between Dano and Kazan that really pops, though, and Ruby Sparks is a magical delight that never succumbs to romcom cliché. More, please. 4/5

Via Out In The City

Celluloid Life: It’s A Family Affair

It’s late evening on a Thursday. I really should be spending these blessed twilight hours researching and writing stuff that, y’know, people will actually read (I think, I hope)… But it’s been a week since my last confess- I mean blog entry, and I should really big up the blog love. As fate would have it, I’ve seen two films this week that I wouldn’t mind actually procrastinating over (one massively so, the other, well, you’ll see…). They both had one thing in common – fucked up families.

Home is a French film that took its bow at last year’s Cannes. It’s a story overflowing with whimsy and vision, following a close-knit family whose idyllic, middle-of-nowhere house is set right next to a disused motorway. But when the motorway is re-opened to the public, mother Martha (Isabelle Huppert) and her clan have their peaceful lives irrevocably changed. At once comedy, drama and tragedy, Home has quite a few knives in the air, and nary drops a single one. It’s a shock to find that it is director Ursula Meier’s first time behind the lense – Home is as assured an exploration of a whole raft of sexy themes as you’re ever likely to find. Its central family is also probably the best on-screen brood since Little Miss Sunshine – warm, messed up and together, you can’t help but love them and their initially carefree existence. Only when the motorway opens does the facade of a happy life begin to crack, and hints at darker undertones begin to appear. Huppert is fantastic, a loving mother with an innate fragility, and Meier frames her film like a work of art. You can never go home again, the saying goes, but you can – and should – definitely check out Home. A-

Next up… Paul Dano, Zooey Deschanel and John Goodman. Two quirks and a loveable oaf. And they’re the crux of an oddball, off-kilter flick called Gigantic. Don’t ask what the title means – it’s never explained. Yes, Gigantic is one of those films (you should have realised that when I called it “oddball”), a film that would quite happily sit on the DVD shelf next to Spotless Mind and anything by David Lynch.

Dano plays Brian, a single 28-year-old bed salesman who wants to adopt a Chinese baby. Odd. By way of selling racist, homophobic Al (Goodman) a bed, Brian meets Al’s kooky daughter Harriet (Deschanel), who likes to be called ‘Happy’ even though she seems to be in a perpetual state of prozac-induced delirium. Odder still. Also, a horrible homeless man seems to want Brian dead, and is stalking him all over the city. Yeah, you guessed it – VERY ODD. Structurally questionable, but rammed with fantastic performances, you find yourself liking Gigantic almost despite itself, even if it is strange and slightly ugly. Like a puppy-runt, or a hideous jumper your favourite late gran gave you. It’s never anything short of entertaining, with both Brian and Harriet’s families proving to be nuttier than a bag of peanuts (Goodman, of course, steals the show). But the lack of firm question-answers to just about anything feels slightly snotty. In the film’s press notes, first-time director Matt Aselton admits that he didn’t want the film to “indulge” in all the characters’ rich back stories. You might admire his finesse, but you might not necessarily like it. Now that’s odd. B-