Calling out the Manic Pixie Dream Girl in the best possible way.
It’s Solaris meets Annie Hall in Zoe Kazan’s smart, funny, and relentless exploration of Hollywood’s most insidious and unchallenged sexist trope.
The bad news is: you may hear word-of-mouth comparisons of Ruby Sparks to an all-too-familiar, high-concept Adam Sandler throwaway, just with better writing and more likeable leads. Yes, a few bloggers might draw comparisons to the plot—about an author whose writing shapes the behavior of a person in the real world—to Stranger Than Fiction.
The good news is: if you hear anyone who’s seen the movie make those accusations, you can rest easy knowing that you never have to trust that person’s opinion ever again, because that person isn’t a human being who thinks thoughts or has opinions about subjects. They’re a walking Furby that uses what may sound like words but are really only responses to stimuli based on pre-assigned, easily recallable statements that it only knows because it heard someone else say it first.
Ruby Sparks is the second film from husband and wife directing team Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris and their follow up to Little Miss Sunshine. Both take fresh, R-rated approaches to familiar, potentially PG family material, but that’s where the similarities end. This is something new; a carefully crafted and much-needed examination of the full implications of one of Hollywood’s most prevalent objectifications of female characters:
the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl,” aka the MPDG.
Calvin is a young writer who wrote a smash hit as a teenager and has been coasting ever since. He has not written a follow up, nor has he maintained a steady relationship in years. To cure his writer’s block, Calvin begins writing about the girl of his dreams—literally, as in, he can’t stop dreaming about her. One day she comes to life, and every one of her fantasized quirks, tics, traits, and stories is there. And as he continues to write, she continues to change.
Everything is sweet at first, but the more of a real person she becomes, the more controlling Calvin needs to be to keep her from leaving and pursuing her own dreams. When he (unintentionally) created her, it wasn’t about her, it was about him. Now that she’s real, he still needs it to be about him. And while Calvin’s hilariously crude brother keeps saying “Make her tits bigger,” at least he’s not attempting to own her soul.
Which is the worse objectification?
The MPDG, by necessity, isn’t a real person. The term was coined by Nathan Rabin of A.V. Club to describe an archetype, chiefly Natalie Portman in Garden State or Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown. They are the fevered dreams of sensitive writers, and their only purpose in life is to help the inward man break out of his shell. They don’t have personalities, only idealized traits. They may not be objectified in the conventionally understood way, but their whole existence still revolves around one man. They are single-use women, and it’s a very troubling trend in films that Ruby Sparks does a terrific job of satirizing and calling out.
Still, it’s not all morals and manifestos, and Ruby Sparks makes its point without being didactic or reductionist. The script by costar Zoe Kazan still manages to be cute and silly with the best supporting cast in years. If you take a date, it may just strengthen your relationship. If you don’t, it’ll improve future ones.
WIDE RELEASE | 8.3.12
RATED | R