Monday, December 31, 2012

Ruby Sparks Isn't Your MPDG

[Content note: spoilers]

Ronald is catching up on movies that he missed in 2012, just to ensure that he does his due diligence in creating his top 10 list. So we're watching Ruby Sparks right now on DVD. I think this might be the first time that I've blogged about a movie as I'm watching it...

I can admit, when I first saw a preview, I was intrigued but worried. I'm no stranger to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (MPDG) trope. I've had my gripes about it before. So when I saw that the premise of Ruby Sparks was that a male writer creates his quirky, dream woman into life...I thought, "What the helllll?" But I like Paul Dano and I was a bit curious.

But then I forgot about the movie and went on with my life. That is until Ronald rented it just now. What has inspired me to write is how this film is turning the MPDG thing on its head. It started when Paul Dano's character, Calvin, was told by his older brother that women created in the heads of men aren't real...but stuff got infinitely more interesting when Ruby came to life and began to have her own thoughts and expectations.

You see, just being everything that Calvin likes isn't enough for her. Ruby wants her own life. She wants to go to art classes, and work at a coffee shop, and have friends and go out with them. And when Ruby begins to seek this life outside him, Calvin manipulates Ruby and makes her extremely needy and codependent so that all she wants is him. Then, of course that backfires and Ruby becomes deeply depressed. So Calvin tries to make her happy again to which she just becomes mindlessly happy, and therefore not herself. So now I'm in the place where she's wanting to be social again and is at a party with him. It seems that Calvin is pretty quickly learning that even though Ruby might be an invention of his mind, because she is now a real person, she's not satisfied just being his partner and there for his whims. She wants her own life and ambitions, and has her own opinions. 

It made me interested to find out more about the minds behind the film. Unsurprisingly, a movie which questions the whole MPDG thing was written by a woman, Zoe Kazan, who plays Ruby and co-directed by another woman, Valerie Faris (and her husband, Jonathan Dayton.) All the more reason that more female voices must be represented in the mainstream.

OK, something else interesting just happened. Calvin ran into his ex at the party, and she called him out for his selfishness in their relationship and the fact that he was threatened by her (also a writer). She said, and I quote, "The only person you wanted to be in a relationship with was you." That makes sense about a man who ended up creating a woman into life to serve his whims and ego. While I watch more, here are some other great thoughts on Ruby Sparks and the MPDG trope:

TK at Pajiba:
The events that follow are less a love story and more a frank, wickedly clever and also quite bittersweet examination of what happens when we begin to idealize romance, what love is and what love isn’t, and why, in the end, the idea behind the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a farce. Ruby starts out as a lovably silly, quirky-as-hell ingénue, but once made real, she … becomes real. She develops independence and intellectual curiosity and, as a result, boredom. The ensuing frantic worry that envelops Calvin is fascinating, bordering on terrifying, as his obsession with her and his desperate need to have her be his and his alone leads him to take actions ranging from disturbing to hilarious to disturbingly hilarious.
Judy Berman at Flavorwire:
What comes next is too smart and chaotically graceful to spoil, an emotionally charged implosion of a fatally one-dimensional archetype that dramatizes the problem with lonely male writers creating female characters who don’t exist — pretty, offbeat girls with no hopes or dreams or thoughts or needs of their own. It’s no coincidence that it took a woman screenwriter to inoculate us against the Manic Pixie Dream Girl epidemic.
Alison Willmore at Movie Line:
After all, Ruby Sparks is really about Calvin. Ruby is simply a mirror — which is why the ending strikes the only real false note of the movie. Calvin gets a dose of much-needed self-awareness and what feels like the wrong sort of chance at redemption.
As a whole, however, Ruby Sparks lands like a punch. It's a smart counter-jab to the many movies out there that put forth the myth that the world is full of quirky angels in ballet flats who are just waiting for some morose protagonist to come along in need of their love.
As I was gathering those quotes, an explosive scene just went down between Ruby and Calvin where he reveals that she can make her do anything and in a fit of fury he makes her rattle off a string of compliments and then scream over and over, "You're a genius!" The scene is important because it highlights how deeply self serving not only Calvin is in creating Ruby, but the existence of the MPDG trope at all.

And now I've come to the end, and I better understand what Willmore meant above when she says "the ending strikes the only real false note." In the end, Calvin gets a chance to be with Ruby by running into her in the park and she 1) doesn't remember him and 2) is reading his book about her (names changed). But to me, it makes at least a little sense that he gets a "chance at redemption." He gets that chance because he has learned what it means to be with someone--really be with someone, not the person you think they are or want them to be. Or manipulate them into. And this time he has the shot at a relationship with Ruby really choosing it, an equal balance of power, a person who can be herself, and his having (hopefully!) gained some maturity, compassion, selflessness, and humility along the way.

Given all of this, it's really unfortunate that the film has been widely overlooked. Check it out, if you get a chance. And if I haven't already spoiled it for you.

1 comment:

  1. thank you so much. i'm doing an essay for english on the mpdg trope and the deconstruction of it, and this is a great article to help me get to the ideas behind ruby sparks


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