Couples collaborate on rom-com with a dark sideby Euan Kerr, Minnesota Public Radio
ST. PAUL, Minn. — One of the more successful romantic comedies in recent years is the result of a collaboration between two high-powered real-life couples.
When Zoe Kazan and Paul Dano realized they had a script about a writer who created his own perfect girlfriend, they turned to the husband-and-wife team behind "Little Miss Sunshine." Kazan and Dano were in the Twin Cities recently to introduce the film "Ruby Sparks."
In the movie, a writer named Calvin meets a young woman in a dream. Calvin is a novelist who had huge success with his first novel, but has been blocked ever since.
After dreaming about Ruby, his mojo returns and he begins writing like a demon. Then things take a disturbing turn when Calvin discovers a real woman, who seems to be Ruby, has materialized in his house.
Ruby is played by Zoe Kazan, who also wrote the screenplay.
"Calvin, in the movie, wakes up with a dream of a girl, a dream of inspiration," said Kazan. "That's sort of how this happened to me. I woke up one morning and the first 10 or 15 pages were in my head." Kazan showed those pages to her longtime boyfriend, Paul Dano, and it raised an immediate question.
"I threw myself on her and said, 'Are you writing this for us?' And she had to say yes," Dano recalled.
Kazan said she'd actually been just thinking about the story, but quickly came around to Dano's way of thinking.
"The character description was tall, thin, hasn't seen the sun or a gym in a very long time," she said. "Who else could I be talking about?"
"Hey, now," interrupted Dano. "Hey now."
When Kazan and Dano began thinking of who might be a good director for the project, they came up with two people -- Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the husband-and-wife team behind "Little Miss Sunshine," the successful 2006 indie movie which featured Dano.
It's quite unusual to have two couples leading a film project, but Kazan said it seemed to work because of the dynamic within the two couples.
"When it's two people's passion, both people in the couple, you end up talking about it before you go to bed at night, and when you are driving somewhere, and in the bathtub," said Kazan. "I think the project advanced more quickly than it would have otherwise, and with Jon and Val doing the same thing between them."
Dayton and Faris learned their craft making music videos for the likes of REM, the Smashing Pumpkins and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. In addition to directing the film, they wove together a sound track featuring French versions of American pop hits.
Like the character of Ruby herself, the songs are familiar but a little off kilter.
While "Ruby Sparks" is very funny, there are some dark questions running below the surface of the story. In the film, Calvin tells his brother Harry what has happened, and at first he can't get his head around it.
"Stranger things have happened," said Calvin.
"I don't think so," Harry responded. "I think this is pretty much the strangest thing that has happened. Ever."
But once he's convinced Ruby is real, and that whatever Calvin writes about her will come true, Harry makes a plea.
"For men everywhere, tell me you're not going to let that go to waste," he said.
There's a lot in "Ruby Sparks" about freedom and control. Kazan said she likes to be challenged by movies, and that's what she's injected into her film.
"Most romantic comedies end before the relationship starts," she said. "And this one is kind of more about what happens to people."
"Ruby Sparks" is Kazan's first screenplay, but she's an established playwright, and won praise for her acting on Broadway and in film. She is the granddaughter of famed director Elia Kazan, and both of her parents are directors.
Dano has a couple of dozen films to his name, including a key role in "There Will Be Blood." They hope they will be able to make a film together again soon.
- Morning Edition, 08/03/2012, 7:45 a.m.