He wears cardigans and vintage eyeglasses. He uses an old typewriter. He longs for true romance and a soul mate to complete him. He would never take advantage of a woman. He is sensitive, affable, self-deprecating, quirky, sharp, soulful, idealistic, and brooding. He manifests early in young female brains and continues to descend from dreamland in the form of Hugh Grant in Notting Hill, Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, Michael Cera in… any Michael Cera movie, and most recently and perhaps most laser-focused, Paul Dano in Ruby Sparks.
Ruby herself (Zoe Kazan) plays the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (coined by critic Nathan Rabin regarding Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown) to real life partner Paul Dano’s almost-perfect-dude-with-feelings. He is a hipster wannabe writer’s dream, and the perfect complement to Kazan’s singing-while-cooking spontaneous-swimming girlfriend. Although Dano’s Calvin has his faults (as we see unfold), he adheres to the essentials: rumpled but stylish, full of being unfulfilled, and committed to his own sincerity.
Nerve has tackled this and singled it out as bookend to the dream girl, and I’ve come up with a term I’ll definitely be using the next time Michael Cera hits the screen. (I mean, come on, he’s not likely to appear in any Expendables sequels, right?)
Bumbling Soulful Dream Guy.
Moving on to the actual meat of the movie — Kazan wrote the screenplay, and her freshman screenwriting debut is fairly solid. We find Calvin, a lonely writer who manifests his perfect, purple tights-wearing woman with his writing alone, Pygmalion-style, and finds he can manipulate her personality with a mere sentence. But being the Bumbling Soulful Dream Guy that he is, would never capitalize on that for personal gain, until he finds his dream girl may not be satisfied with him. We knew they couldn’t make it work on dreams alone. Our protagonist falls hard and we are taken on the journey of redemption (or just being really lucky) for Calvin and rebirth for Ruby.
Ruby Sparks doesn’t ignore or exalt the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but rather embraces it. This turns the stereotype on its head, and it all becomes very meta by the end. But in the end, Ruby Sparks is a respectable Rom-Com in a world of Katherine Heigl anti-feminist flops. I’ll take it.
Final note: Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas shall become my second parents. I’ll take one wooden chair, please.