In a special feature on the film’s Blu-ray, Kazan asks, “How do you love all of someone and not just pick and choose parts?” This is the central theme of her film, directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. Written specifically for her partner Paul Dano, “Ruby Sparks” follows Calvin Weir-Fields, a 29-year-old writer who is struggling to finish a second book after the breakout success of his first novel ten years earlier. Still nursing the wounds after a breakup from his girlfriend of five years Lila (Deborah Ann Woll), who left shortly after his father died, Calvin regularly sees a therapist, Dr. Rosenthal (Elliott Gould).
“Girls aren’t interested in me. They’re interested in some idea of me,” he laments during one session, while also complaining that his dog Scotty embarrasses him because he is scared of people and “pees like a girl.” Dr. Rosenthal recommends Calvin work through his writer’s block and his feelings about Scotty, which are clearly a proxy for his own self-worth, by writing a page in which someone likes Scotty just as he is. That night, Calvin is visited by his dream girl: Ruby (Zoe Kazan).
We actually first meet Ruby in the opening shot of the film. Kazan appears as a silhouette coming out of the sun, awash in its amber glow. A clichéd fantasy entrance if there ever was one, which we later discover comes directly from Calvin’s writing. After completing the writing assignment, he describes Ruby to Dr. Rosenthal with increasingly insipid details. She’s 26 years old and from Dayton, Ohio (because it sounds romantic). Her first crushes are Humphrey Bogart and John Lennon. She was kicked out of high school for sleeping with her art teacher … or Spanish teacher—he can’t decide. She can’t drive and doesn’t own a computer. She hates her middle name, which is Tiffany. Her last boyfriend was 49. The one before was an alcoholic. She forgets to pay bills or cash checks. As he runs through this list, we see Ruby in all her quirky detail. Roller skating in bright red skates, riding on the back of a Harley wearing black leather, bicycling through idyllic woods.
Calvin, we must remember, is an esteemed writer whose breakout novel Heartbroken Old Times is described as a new American classic. One whose sudden impact we’re told was so great, even though the novel is only a decade old, it’s already taught in high school. The only detail revealed about the content of that novel comes from a Q&A he attends celebrating its anniversary. An eager reader asks if the women in the whorehouse are wearing blue to match the blue of the apron worn by the protagonist’s mother. A 19-year-old boy wonder praised for writing the Great American Novel, yet he clearly knows very little about women beyond the mother-whore dichotomy. This excerpt, and the early description of Ruby sound very much like the many bad descriptions of women written by men female writers have shared on social media.