Zoe Kazan, wrote and stars in the intriguing Ruby Sparks
Ruby Sparks (15)
On The Road (15)
Reviewed by Demetrios Matheou
When writers appear as characters on screen, they are invariably psychotic. Think of the Coen brothers' Barton Fink, or Charlie Kaufman's version of himself in Adaptation. On the surface, Ruby Sparks presents a gentler variation on the scribe's tortured psyche, but you shouldn't judge a book by its cover.
Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) is a literary wunderkind but a one-hit wonder. Ten years after his bestselling debut, he's locked in both a writer's and a romantic block. While his brother urges him to meet girls, his only attraction is to the one literally in his dreams. Without any other inspiration, he kills two birds with one stone by writing about her, giving her a name and a history. Naturally, when Calvin wakes up one morning and sees Ruby (Zoe Kazan) in his kitchen, he thinks he's gone mad. The reality is stranger than that.
As directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the pair behind Little Miss Sunshine, this has a similar mixture of feelgood comedy and dark despair, as Calvin's reaction to Ruby's appearance moves from shock to delight, to the realisation that creating his perfect girlfriend can't compensate for his own deficiencies. Dano's nuanced performance carries us skilfully through these dramatic see-saws. There's a very funny cameo by Antonio Banderas, an entirely predictable one by Steve Coogan. The film is written by Ruby herself, Zoe Kazan, who clearly has a rich imagination.
Writing is also a central subject of On The Road. Jack Kerouac's masterpiece is a complicated animal. Though it is a key text of the Beat movement, which was associated with social revolution, Buddhism and the environmental movement, the book itself doesn't deal overtly with any of these, instead presenting a fundamental story of young men exorcising their demons and struggling to find their place in the world. Readers expecting ideology have been disappointed by the aimless gallivanting of narrator Sal Paradise and the hedonistic conman Dean Moriarty.
The point is that the book, with its breathless prose and sympathy with Moriarty's carefree spirit, provided not the content but the spark for all that followed. In itself, it is one of the most sublime stories ever written about youth. Director Walter Salles understands this, and his long-awaited adaptation is close to the best I could have imagined.
It starts in New York in the late 1940s, with the meeting of wannabe writer Paradise (Sam Riley) and Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund), the charismatic Lothario from Denver who is embraced by Sal's intellectual set. As Moriarty juggles various people in his bed, including first wife Marylou (Kristen Stewart), second wife Camille (Kirsten Dunst) and the hopelessly besotted poet Carlo Marx (Tom Sturridge), the key relationship is the platonic one between him and Paradise, bonding over absent fathers, both keen for new experience.
As this is Kerouac's riff on real life, Paradise is Kerouac himself, Marx is Allen Ginsberg, the eccentric Old Bull Lee (Viggo Mortensen) is William Burroughs, and Moriarty the proto-Beat male Neal Cassady. Scriptwriter Jose Rivera astutely keeps this reality in mind: we often see Kerouac/Paradise making notes of jazz clubs, romantic misdeeds and the many journeys in the drifter's company, all roads leading to his typewriter back in Queens.
Just as with The Motorcycle Diaries, Salles is consummate at recreating period and the thrill of the road – the sense of distance, changing landscape, the elements. He also captures a younger generation beginning to let its hair down in defiance of the conservativism of the times. The result is sexy, funny, beautifully photographed and performed. Of an excellent cast, special mention goes to Riley (a study in watchfulness and empathy), Hedlund (who shows the pathos behind his character's bravado), Sturridge and Dunst.
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