Scott Foundas, Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton. Photo by Julie Cunnah.

An incredibly creative and new take on the love story, Ruby Sparks tells the story of Calvin (Paul Dano), a neurotic man nearing thirty who suffers from writer's block. With the help of his therapist (Elliot Gould), Calvin dreams up his perfect girlfriend—a girl with a penchant for brightly colored tights and speaking her mind, and who always roots for the underdog. This ideal woman, Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan), comes as a vision to Calvin in his dreams. Suddenly he is reinvigorated and writes his newest story at a feverish pace, spending days on end at his typewriter, over the course of which he comes to fall in love with his protagonist.

One day, Calvin awakens to find Ruby, clothed only in one of his nerd-chic chambray button downs, in his kitchen eating a bowl of cereal as if nothing were out of the ordinary and bringing a whole new meaning to making your story come alive. What follows is a study on relationships, infidelity, true love, and couple power dynamics. With amazing supporting characters played by the likes of Annette Benning, Antonio Banderas, and Steve Coogan, Ruby Sparks is a refreshing blend of drama and well-timed comedic moments. Despite its extraordinary events, the story is grounded, real, and extremely honest.

In front of a packed Walter Reade Theater, Film Society Associate Director of Programming Scott Foundas took the stage for a Q&A with the creative team behind the new indie release Ruby Sparks. On-screen and real-life couple Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan, who also wrote the screenplay, and filmmaking couple Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris spoke about the process of making the film and their inspirations.

Foundas, Dano and Kazan. Photo by Julie Cunnah.

Kazan was so excited to have her labor of love screen at the Walter Reade—she once worked as an usher at the theater—she joyously said: “I feel like I'm going to cry right now. This is my favorite movie theater! I feel overwhelmed by love.” Kazan, who says she got the initial idea for her screenplay when she saw a mannequin discarded in a dumpster behind a Macy's, was just as charming and effervescent as her character. She was further inspired by the Pygmalion myth and, after quickly writing 20 pages, put her work away for six months before returning to it with fresh eyes and greater clarity about her goal, which was to compare the idea of love to the actuality of it.  

Paul Dano, who bore witness to Kazan's creative process, said that by page 10 the two actors knew they wanted Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the pair behind the 2006 Sundance and box office smash hit Little Miss Sunshine, to direct the picture. Dayton and Faris, in turn, said they knew they wanted to work on the picture as soon as they knew Dano and Kazan were attached.

Los Angeles is a very big part of the film, almost a character more so than it is a setting. Kazan talked about how she sees LA as a town where it is very easy to feel totally alone and isolated. She even likened Calvin's solitary existence to a “single celled organism.” When an audience member applauded Kazan for the overarching sense of realism she brought to her characters, despite the fantastical circumstances of Ruby's existence, she seemed genuinely complimented. Kazan said her goal was to show that everyone is flawed in one way or another and we as human being must be able to accept the ones we love despite their shortcomings.  

Watch full video of the Q&A below to hear more about location scouting, the soundtrack, and what other films inspired Dayton and Faris:

Homepage photo by Belem Destefani.