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MOVIE REVIEW: 'Ruby Sparks' a worthy emotional ride

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Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan in "Ruby Sparks"

Ruby Sparks

(R)

3 out of 4 stars

A comment from a viewer after the screening for this movie said almost everything you need to know about "Ruby Sparks" -- "if it was sweeter and had more popular leads it could've been something like 'Pretty Woman.'" That is a mostly accurate summation of the film and luckily not exactly how it eventually plays out.

"Ruby Sparks" is not a supremely well-executed movie and doesn't feature any big-name Hollywood stars but it is the kind of film that will instantly field a fervent cult following and is far deeper than it initially appears.

Unlike most fantasy films, "Ruby Sparks" doesn't include any sci-fi trappings and counts on its audience to be smart, open-minded and somewhat malleable. It always manages to achieve a couple of those desired goals but never all at the same time. It's a lot like that painful Meat Loaf love ballad "Two out of three Ain't Bad."

Equally appealing to tortured artist types and the optimistic, hopelessly optimistic crowd, "Ruby Sparks" should be given high marks for being favorable to two such divergent demographics; that's a wide swath. To reinterpret that opening comparison, it's "Pretty Woman" by way of "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind." If you liked either of those movies, you will at least cherish "Ruby Sparks" a little. If you are fond of both, you will totally love it.

Calvin (Paul Dano) is a guy who wrote a monumentally successful J.D. Salinger-type novel back when he was 19 but has been stuck in writer's block hell ever since. Now 29, Calvin is financially flush but artistically bereft. He's tired of treading water while trying to come up with a suitably brilliant follow-up and placates his anxious publisher by churning out inconsequential and uninspired short-story collections.

Ongoing sessions with a shrink (Elliott Gould) do little to help Calvin and it is only when he seizes on inspiration from his vivid dreams does he get on the good foot. Blurry and vague at first, the female apparition he conjures nightly quickly engulfs him and his creative reboot becomes an all-consuming obsession.

Sadly this is the point where the revealing of any more details of the plot must cease. It won't ruin anything to let you know that Calvin eventually realizes that every word he writes manifests itself in way that completely defies logic. He is solely responsible for whatever happens to someone close to him simply by typing.

How empowered would you feel if you knew that whatever you tapped out on your keyboard could immediately be physically realized? What would you write? Would you tempt fate knowing that you could always go back and edit it or would you try as much as you could to try to stay true to your own inner core values?

What Calvin yearns for and gets, yet continuously amends is at the heart of writer Zoe Kazan's screenplay and it is the finest and most supremely rewarding portion of the movie. Being omnipotent regarding someone else's future is tantalizingly alluring but also presents a razor-sharp, double-edged sword and a lot of moral second-guessing.

This is the second time Dano has collaborated with co-directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the couple that gave us "Little Miss Sunshine," a similarly-minded Oscar-winning indie gem that found huge crossover success with mainstream audiences. It was a dysfunctional family comedy that was totally unfit for family viewing and while "Ruby Sparks" is not at all inappropriate for couples or fans of happy-go-lucky chick flicks, it is sometimes trippy and often darkly cruel in a few spots.

Despite its considerable narrative hiccups "Ruby Sparks" is a wholly original film and well-worth your emotional investment and time. (Fox Searchlight)