"Ruby Sparks" (Fox Searchlight): Something wonderful occurs when actor Paul Dano is under the guidance of directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. We first witnessed it when they directed him in the dysfunctional family ensemble piece "Little Miss Sunshine." The good news is that they've struck gold again with the twisted rom-com "Ruby Sparks."
Calvin (Dano), an acclaimed, best-selling author at 19, is buckling under the pressure to produce another masterpiece. The publication of the 10th anniversary edition of his celebrated novel has not helped his writer's block at all. His therapy sessions with Dr. Rosenthal (Elliot Gould) aren't much better, with Calvin usually in the fetal position clutching Bobby the Teddy bear.
Image: Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan in "Ruby Sparks" / Fox Searchlight
His brother Harry (Chris Messina) is his best friend and confidante, while his dog Scotty is Calvin's only true constant companion. He regularly avoids his agent Cyrus (Aasif Mandvi) and his hippie-dippy mother Gertrude (Annette Bening).
But something inspirational happens to Calvin. Following the appearance of a red-headed woman in one of his dreams and a session in which Dr. Rosenthal suggests that he write something, even it's bad, Calvin is seated before his typewriter, hitting the keys, crafting sentences, plot and creating a character a character named Ruby.
Before you can say Woody Allen, the quirky and offbeat Ruby (Zoe Kazan, who also wrote the screenplay) appears in his house. Naturally, this leads to a near-catastrophic freak-out on Calvin's part. Once he realizes that this is not merely his imagination compensating for his former lack of creative spark and that he has, in fact, manifested one of his characters in the flesh, everything changes for him.
As you might expect, Ruby's arrival provides a variety of comedic and romantic possibilities that pleasantly come to life on screen. On the flipside, there is also the potential for darkness, a concept lingering in the background throughout. Once it reveals itself, "Ruby Sparks" takes a momentarily ugly turn.
For the most part, however, "Ruby Sparks" is endearing and engaging. A visit to Gertrude's home in Big Sur, where she is shacked up with furniture maker Mort (Antonio Banderas) is especially entertaining. "Ruby Sparks" may not be as luminous as "Little Miss Sunshine," but it allows Dano to beam.