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The meta qualities of “Ruby Sparks”

Ruby Sparks

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By Jennifer Vineyard

When actress Zoe Kazan started writing “Ruby Sparks,” she came up with two main characters, Calvin, whose love life has been barren of late, and Ruby, his dream girl. Kazan’s real-life boyfriend, actor Paul Dano, turned to her later reading the first few pages, and asked, “Are you writing this for us?” “And she said, ‘Yes,’ but I think she just realized it then,” he told IFC.

This wasn’t because Kazan is also Dano’s dream girl, because the movie takes the literal approach to the phrase — Calvin dreamed up Ruby, and then she physically manifested, as if her very existence was dependent on his idea of her. And then, as Calvin learns, he can control his creation, too. If he types a line about Ruby speaking perfect French, suddenly she’s doing just that — completely unaware that she’s switched languages. Anything that displeases Calvin, he can tweak — if she’s too needy, or not needy enough.

Considering that while Calvin controls Ruby by writing her, and Kazan controls Dano by writing his character, the realization of the story has a certain meta quality, “just that the roles are reversed, right?” Dano laughed. “She wrote it, and I’m an actor, so the words she wrote in the film are the ones that I write for her, and she’s saying things that I write that she wrote for me.”

But that’s where the Pygmalion-ness of it all ends in real life, he insisted. “It doesn’t go beyond, ‘This is ironic,’ or, ‘This is interesting,'” Dano said. Although he did get to have a certain amount of input in Kazan’s script, but only as a supportive boyfriend.

“I would engage her and ask questions and be there for her, but I certainly did not try to shape any of the characters in any way,” he said. “I trust Zoe and she’s a wonderful writer, so I let her do her thing, and did anything I could to help her. I rarely thought about it in terms of, ‘I’m going to be in this.’ It was more like, if she were stuck, saying, ‘Keep going, baby!'”

Dano’s biggest contribution — outside of his own acting — was to hook Kazan up with his “Little Miss Sunshine” directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton. “About ten pages into Zoe writing it, I was like, ‘Jon and Val should direct this,'” he said. “And so for the rest of her writing, she was writing for them. They were the dream choice.”

Faris and Dayton — a couple themselves — had previously met Kazan, since Dano had stayed in touch with the directing team over the past six years. “I told them, ‘You have to meet my new girlfriend. You’d really like her,'” Dano said. “And luckily, it worked out, and the four of us had a very good collaboration.”

Faris said they spent about nine months working with Kazan, “developing and just working on the script, and getting to know it and getting to know her.” And for her part, Kazan learned to let go and give the directors control. “It was John and Val’s movie at that point,” Dano said.

After a few days of shooting, Dano also learned to put aside his self-consciousness about having his girlfriend take on dual roles. “Does it exacerbate it to have your girlfriend on set, on a scene that she’s the writer, so she’s watching? Yeah, there is that,” he said, “but you move on pretty quick. She was more like my partner-in-crime.”

Dano doesn’t expect to have quite the same level of input on any of his next projects — but then again, he’s usually not living with the writer. “It’s definitely different,” he laughed. “This one feels very personal, which is nice. Not every experience is going to be like this.”

“Ruby Sparks” is now playing in limited release.

Will you be seeing “Ruby Sparks” this weekend? Tell us in the comments section below or on Facebook and Twitter.


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.