Ruby Sparks (15)

 

A romantic comedy hitching a ride on a magic-realist carpet and directed by the duo behind Little Miss Sunshine, Ruby Sparks has promise aplenty.

It stars Paul Dano as Calvin, a writer whose Hollywood Hills residence was bought on the success of a generation-defining debut novel 10 years ago, since when he's had the mother of all blocks.

At the suggestion of his shrink (Elliott Gould), he starts to write about a woman he's been dreaming of, calls her Ruby and lo! – to the sound of his clacking typewriter this figment materialises in real form.

The gimmick is that blue-eyed Ruby (played by Zoe Kazan, who also wrote the script) can be finessed according to Calvin's whim: when she seems to be drifting from him he types in an alteration and suddenly she's super-clingy.

It's a movie with a good idea, but some way short of a good movie. Dano is no romantic lead, and seems even less like a top novelist; he really doesn't jump off the screen. Better value are Annette Bening as his hippie mom and Chris Messina as his brother, the only one who's in on Calvin's secret ("You're a writer, not Ricky Jay").

I kept imagining what Woody Allen in his prime would have done with the conceit – Kazan's script, for all its cleverness, isn't funny enough for comedy nor dark enough for the moment when Calvin's controlling instinct tries to bend Ruby into submission. (Spot the late reference to The Red Shoes, echoing Anton Walbrook's ruthless exploitation of his muse.) Bright enough, but no sparks.

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