IN THE TOOTHLESS not-quite-satire Ruby Sparks, Paul Dano plays Calvin, a writer who busted out the Great American Novel at age 19—and, 10 years later, has yet to produce a follow-up. A writing assignment from his therapists prompts Calvin to begin writing about his fantasy girl—a bike-riding high-school dropout with long red hair saddled with the unfortunate name Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan). He writes in an inspired frenzy, not stopping to sleep, and then, one morning, the girl he's been imagining materializes in his kitchen.
Ruby Sparks never bothers to explain the how and why of its conceit; Ruby just exists, exactly as Calvin imagined. But the magic doesn't stop there: Calvin can edit Ruby just by writing about her, a power he abuses when the challenges of maintaining a real relationship prove too much for him.
Star Zoe Kazan wrote the film, for herself and her real-life boyfriend Paul Dano, and she clearly has a point to make: Ruby Sparks doesn't take aim at the "manic pixie dream girl" trope so much as the notion of a "dream girl" period, and Calvin's inability to accept the flesh-and-blood dimensions of his fantasy provides the film's central conflict. But Ruby Sparks lets Calvin off too easy—he's kind of a sociopath, with serious control issues, but the film's ending glosses over the worst of his behavior.