"Ruby Sparks," a romantic comedy from the directors of "Little Miss Sunshine," explores the challenges of creativity and love when a young author's fantasy woman comes to life.
After a long bout of writer's block, Calvin, a novelist, creates a new character, Ruby. He writes incessantly about her and falls in love.
When his fictional character appears to materialize in real life, Calvin is terrified. He calls his brother Harry for help. Harry believes Calvin has an overactive imagination, until he meets Ruby.
Believing Ruby is an imposter, Harry suggests Calvin write something about her to see if it comes true. So when Calvin writes that his fictional character speaks French, true-life Ruby begins speaking the language as well.
Although the film starts out as a romantic comedy, it becomes darker as it addresses issues of control.
"This is insane," Harry says to Calvin in the film. "You manifested a woman with your mind. So, you can, like, change her."
But Calvin's creation has her own personality.
The movie addresses the philosophical aspects of love, loneliness, and the line between the real and the imaginary.
Ultimately, Calvin has to relinquish control of his beloved no matter her origin.
The story also questions whether creative genius can be beckoned.
Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris directed "Ruby Sparks." They say, thanks to the script's intelligent dialogue and twists, this romantic comedy deviates from Hollywood's formulaic love stories.
"There is a lot of them out there and at a certain point they can be pretty tired," Dayton says, "and this was a really different kind of comedy.
Faris doesn't think of their film as a romantic comedy. "I think there are funny elements. This is a little more dramatic in my mind."
Actors Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan, a real-life couple, portray Calvin and Ruby as refreshingly unpredictable.
Like the directors, the lead actors didn't want Hollywood to produce the film, so they produced it themselves with the help of Fox Searchlight Pictures, a smaller enterprise.
Kazan, the grandaughter of famous director Elias Kazan, who wrote the script and plays Ruby, says it's not easy to make films outside Hollywood's studio system.
"It's a really strange time for independent films right now," Kazan says. "Movies get made at a very tiny budget or not at all basically, especially without movie stars in the lead roles."
According to Kazan, her family credentials didn't help.
"Sometimes I wish it was more of an advantage because it's a really hard business," she says. "You need a break basically."
Dano, who plays Calvin, explains how the project got started.
"Zoe and I have been dating for five years," he says. "She started writing it in our apartment and about 10 pages into her writing I said 'We should send this to Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris,' and she said 'Yes.'"
The directors say the film was a labor of love.
"And hopefully it shows up on the screen," says Dayton.
"Ruby Sparks" is an intelligent story, as breezy as it's hearbreaking. Its superb cast makes it one of the season's best.