Shelley Halstead, LSRJ Summer Legal Intern
I am not a reviewer of movies but I feel like I can review previews of movies. OK, I don’t even know if I can do that. But I can tell if I want to go see a movie from the preview. And after watching the Ruby Sparks preview I now know I will not be going to see that movie.
Dig this: Through a young author’s spark of imagination, his protagonist, the ingénue Ruby, transforms from existing on the page to a living breathing entity to behold. Or to be held as our writer protagonist will soon enough be able to do. The opening shot of the preview begins with the young male author putting paper into a typewriter (old school, perhaps it’s just that old fashioned kind of love he’s looking for) with his voice over telling us that he has a good idea but then says he thinks “it’s just stupid.” To which another male voice responds, “Tell me about it.” Immediately I think the response is sarcastic, exasperated like mine, as in yeah, buddy, tell me about your stupid idea. So, the young author begins to speak about the girl he wants to write about as her image appears on screen backlit by the sunshine, nothing discernible except the outline of her body, with her legs and figure accentuated beneath a white flowing skirt as she walks through a golden field. His therapist(?) editor(?) says that it sounds romantic. Cut to him saying: “Ruby is from Dayton, Ohio” (sounds wholesome) “but was kicked out of high school for sleeping with her art teacher, or maybe her Spanish teacher. I haven’t decided yet.” So ok, not that wholesome. And why does he almost immediately begin with examples of her sexual exploration? Does this exemplify her free spirit? I, of course, wonder what happened to the male teacher she was sleeping with? How old was he? How old was she? Cut to:
Therapist/editor: I’m glad you found something that inspires you.
Young author: [But] I can’t fall in love with a girl I write.
Therapist/editor: Why not?
Young author: Because she’s not real.
Oh, but soon enough she will be. She will be everything he’s ever wanted, ever dreamed of, ever created. When she does appear in the preview sequence the young author calls his friend to tell him the wacky news. His friend, incredulous at first, says, “There’s no possible way that girl is in your house, because she’s not a real person. People don’t just appear out of thin air.”
But because it’s the movies we can suspend reality for the sake of art. The art of let’s make believe you are loved not for yourself but what you could be.
Friend: Have you tried writing more?
Author writes, Ruby acts.
Friend: That’s insane, you’ve manifested a woman with your mind. You can make her do anything you want. For men everywhere, tell me you’re not going to let that go to waste.
This audience member: Big yawn.
Omniscient voiceover (again): You may see this and think it’s magic, but falling in love is an act of magic.
What’s frustrating about this preview is that it leads us down the oft-trodden male fantasy of the perfect woman. If only one could create her she’d be perfect. (Bwwaahaahaa.) And according to an interview with the NY times, Ms. Kazan, who in real life is the author of the screenplay and plays Ruby on the screen says that “I think I was writing in reaction to a lot of fictional female characters that have been on screen the last few years,” and “just feeling like there’s a diminutive ideal of a girl that’s just one shade away from being true.” While the director puts it more succinctly, “The film is really talking about a male fantasy in a very blatant way.”
Again, I don’t know about the film, but the preview certainly conveys that. For me, it hit that male fantasy squarely on the nose, and appropriately, it made my skin crawl. For the untrained or less cynical or even more hopeful in the crowd (none of whom are me) it’s selling the most magical of magic—it’s selling love or at least the idea of it. The problem is that the preview sells what the interviews, the artists’ statements, and the movie purport to critique—female autonomy within a three dimensional relationship/character. When the omniscient voiceover calls this magic and love it’s forgoing all the creepiness that we just witnessed. They’re selling the fantasy whereby the leading male, lost and forlorn, is to be saved or invigorated by the love of his/the woman.
Believe me, I agree with Kazan and the director that this notion of love, the one where women can be molded by her intimate’s desire, should be critiqued. And I understand that the studio and not the actor/screenwriter/director have a say in the how their film is marketed, but if one does want to make a statement or turn a trope on its head, this preview makes it more difficult for someone like me to buy it. So even if this movie ends up being quirky and lovely, or quirky and thought provoking, I will never know. But then again, I’m apparently not their target audience.