When we look at another person, we don’t see them we interpret them.Through our own unique lens, they are no longer themselves but our version of themselves. Calvin, the protagonist of the film “Ruby Sparks” has a lens so thick that the woman he’s seeing barely exists. Or in Ruby’s case doesn’t exist. He has created her in his mind—cute, creative, funny, artistic, honest, a woman completely herself—he’s literally invented her; Ruby is fiction, the main character in Calvin’s long overdue second novel, a love story about Ruby and Calvin. “Calvin is a man,” he excitedly explains to his therapist in describing his new book, “A lot like me.” Then he quickly adds, “Of course, I’m going to change the name later.”
After ten years of writer’s block Calvin suddenly can’t step away from his Olympia portable typewriter, for writing means to be with Ruby, the love of his life. This is all fine, and perhaps therapeutic, until Ruby (spiritedly played by the script’s writer Zoe Kazan) appears in Calvin’s apartment one day, as real as the eggs she is cooking for him. After the initial shock and disbelief, Calvin (and we) step off the edge of reason. He stops writing about Ruby and begins a life with her.
We all do it. Create fictionalized versions of our significant others. And when that fiction gets contradicted, we become angry and upset. We feel betrayed. He better not do that again, we tell ourselves, and then, when he does we decide some rewiring is in order. We go about fixing him. We delicately call the “issue” to his attention, something he should “work on.” We write his “problem” off as a “character flaw,” secretly wondering what kind of number his mother did on him.
Both parties are guilty. For while Calvin has invented the love of his life, his mother, played by Annette Benning, is reinventing herself for the man she loves. In a way she is Calvin’s alter ego, a chameleon, for after a long marriage to Calvin’s businessman father, where she is seemingly one with golf, polo shirts, and country clubs, she is now married to an artist and the quintessential bohemian. They live in an earthy, hand crafted “temple” deep in the woods of Big Sur, where she glides graciously in loose, organic clothes and free-flowing hair. Calvin resents his mother for this hypocrisy. What he doesn’t see is that he is as guilty as she.
What if you could make those “minor” character adjustments you deem so necessary in your significant other happen, simply, with the swipe of a pen? Doesn’t that person then become essentially you? Aren’t you in a relationship with yourself at that point? An interesting question, one “Ruby Sparks” creatively, humorously, and somewhat darkly delves into, reminding us in the end to be careful what we wish for.