Women: You can’t live with them, you can’t keep them from falling out of love with you even if they were created from your own imagination and some sort of magical-realism typewriter. (That is how the saying goes, right?) Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’s superior, flawed follow-up to Little Miss Sunshine subs out family bonding and beauty pageants for a tour of Borges territory, as once-promising novelist Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) struggles with writer’s block. His only comfort comes from dreaming, when a golden-silhouetted young woman (screenwriter Zoe Kazan) whispers smart, kooky sweet nothings. The former lit wunderkind begins obsessively writing about this ideal female creation, whom he names Ruby Sparks. Then one day, Calvin awakes to find his REM-cycle muse traipsing around his apartment in her colored tights and offering to cook him eggs.
Pulling a page from Charlie Kaufman’s playbook, Kazan and her collaborators are intent on using this metanarrative to puncture the hipster-Pygmalion notion of the manic pixie dream girl. But given the way the film consistently relies on the talented actor’s left-of-center charms, you end up with a cake-and-eat-it-too critique: You get to acknowledge how one-dimensional the male fantasies of hot nerd-messiah chicks are while basking in exactly the same thing. Nice try. And though Dayton and Faris rely less on easy emotional pandering here than in Sunshine, they still can’t resist an opportunity to indulge in cutesy caricatures or gratuitous tweeness. Watch Annette Bening’s and Antonio Banderas’s boho fruitcakes, or witness someone driving down the highway with an ostentatious driftwood chair sticking out of a convertible, and you will understand how a certain strain of Sundance quirk can undermine even the most impressive of fictional endeavors.
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