The directing team behind Little Miss Sunshine make their long-awaited return only to find themselves stuck in the past.
It’s taken six years for filmmakers Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris to move on from their 2006 Sundance hit Little Miss Sunshine. And yet, in a sense, they’re still rooted in the past. Because Ruby Sparks is forever looking over its shoulder at that earlier film, caught somewhere between the creative possibilities it affords and the familiar comforts it provides.
Indeed, it’s hard to believe that Ruby Sparks would exist without its game-changing predecessor. How else to explain the fact that this under-cooked stew of indie clichés has attracted a stellar cast, not to mention the blind faith of a major movie studio? Every one of them hoping for more Sunshine stardust.
So here’s Paul Dano as charmingly afflicted ex-wünderkind Calvin, a boy-genius who wrote a defining work of American literature at 19 then lapsed into painful professional silence. Now he lives in chic minimalism with only his dog, his shrink and the taunting glow of his laptop for company. Only Calvin isn’t charming; he’s repugnant. And possibly deranged. His creativity is rekindled by a literal dream girl, Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan), who subsequently appears, fully formed and half-dressed, cooking Calvin’s breakfast.
Yes, he freaks out. No, he can’t explain it. And so, after a suitable interval to ponder the nature of love, the transience of romance and the illusion of perfection, Calvin simply enslaves Ruby in a prison of his own monstrous narcissism, literally writing the path of her life to suit his own pathologies.
Whereupon Dayton and Faris subject him to a censorious final act downfall, right? Well, no. Not only does Paul go unpunished for his crimes, he’s rewarded – not just with a new book but with a second chance. And you realise, as Ruby Sparks practically begs you not to question its gaping narrative holes, that there’s only one way to explain the film’s own air of borderline pathological optimism. These are the Sunshine guys. There’s no place for shadows in their world.
The longawaited second feature from the indie maestros.
Genuinely baffling – not in a good way.
A big waste of a lot of talent.