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.


Grow TFU

Adulting Like You Mean It

Commuters makes its debut on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Jared Warner, Nick Ciavarella, and Tim Dean were once a part of Murderfist, a group of comedy writers, actors, producers, parents, and reluctant adults. Together with InstaMiniSeries’s Nikki Borges, they’re making their IFC Comedy Crib debut with the refreshingly-honest and joyfully-hilarious Commuters. The webseries follows thirtysomethings Harris and Olivia as they brave the waters of true adulthood, and it’s right on point.

Jared, Nick, Nikki and Tim were kind enough to answer a few questions about Commuters for us. Here’s a snippet of that conversation…


IFC: How would you describe Commuters to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Nick: Two 30-somethings leave the Brooklyn life behind, and move to the New Jersey suburbs in a forced attempt to “grow up.” But they soon find out they’ve got a long way to go to get to where they want to be.

IFC: How would you describe Commuters to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jared: It’s a show about how f*cking stupid people who think they are smart can be.

IFC: What’s your origin story? When did you all meet and how long have you been working together?

Jared: Nick, Tim, and I were all in the sketch group Murderfist since, what, like 2004? God. Anyway, Tim and Nick left the group to pursue other frivolous things, like children and careers, but we all enjoyed writing together and kept at it. We were always more interested in storytelling than sketch comedy lends itself to, which led to our webseries Jared Posts A Personal. That was a show about being in your 20s and embracing the chaos of being young in the city. Commuters is the counterpoint, i guess. Our director Adam worked at Borders (~THE PAST!!~) with Tim, came out to a Murderfist show once, and we’ve kept him imprisoned ever since.

IFC: What was the genesis of Commuters?

Tim: Jared had an idea for a series about the more realistic, less romantic aspects of being in a serious relationship.  I moved out of the city to the suburbs and Nick got engaged out in LA.   We sort of combined all of those facets and Commuters was the end result.

IFC: How would Harris describe Olivia?

Jared: Olivia is the smartest, coolest, hottest person in the world, and Harris can’t believe he gets to be with her, even though she does overreact to everything and has no chill. Like seriously, ease up. It doesn’t always have to be ‘a thing.’

IFC: How would Olivia describe Harris?

Nikki:  Harris is smart, confident with a dry sense of humor but he’s also kind of a major chicken shit…. Kind of like if Han Solo and Barney Rubble had a baby.

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

Nikki:  I think this is the most accurate portrayal of what a modern relationship looks like. Expectations for what your life is ‘supposed to look like’ are confusing and often a let down but when you’re married to your best friend, it’s going to be ok because you will always find a way to make each other laugh.

IFC: Is the exciting life of NYC twentysomethings a sweet dream from which we all must awake, or is it a nightmare that we don’t realize is happening until it’s over?

Tim: Now that i’ve spent time living in the suburbs, helping to raise a two year old, y’all city folk have no fucking clue how great you’ve got it.

Nikki: I think of it similar to how I think about college. There’s a time and age for it to be glorious but no one wants to hang out with that 7th year senior. Luckily, NYC is so multifaceted that you can still have an exciting life here but it doesn’t have to be just what the twentysomethings are doing (thank god).

Jared: New York City is a garbage fire.

See the whole season of Commuters right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


C'mon Fellas

A Man Mansplains To Men

Why Baroness von Sketch Show is a must-see.

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Mansplaining is when a man takes it upon himself to explain something to a woman that she already knows. It happens a lot, but it’s not going to happen here. Ladies, go ahead and skip to the end of this post to watch a free episode of IFC’s latest addition, Baroness von Sketch Show.

However, if you’re a man, you might actually benefit from a good mansplanation. So take a knee, lean in, and absorb the following wisdom.

No Dicks

Baroness von Sketch Show is made entirely by women, therefore this show isn’t focused on men. Can you believe it? I know what you’re thinking: how will we know when to laugh if the jokes aren’t viewed through the dusty lens of the patriarchy? Where are the thinly veiled penis jokes? Am I a bad person? In order: you will, nowhere, and yes.

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Huge Balls

Did you know that there’s more to life than poop jokes, sex jokes, body part jokes? I mean, those things are all really good things, natch, and totally edgy. But Baroness von Sketch Show does something even edgier. It holds up a brutal funhouse mirror to our everyday life. This is a bulls**t world we made, fellas.


Oh Canada

After you watch the Canadian powerhouses of Baroness von Sketch Show and think to yourself “Dear god, this is so real” and “I’ve gotta talk about this,” do yourself a favor and think a-boot your options: Refrain from sharing your sage wisdom with any woman anywhere (believe us, she gets it). Instead, tell a fellow bro and get the mansplaining out of your system while also spreading the word about a great show.

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Dudes, that’s the deal.
Women, start reading again here:

Check out the preview episode of Baroness von Sketch Show and watch the series premiere August 2 on IFC.


Happy Tears

Binge Don’t Cringe

Catch up on episodes of Documentary Now! and Portlandia.

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Photo Credit: GIFs via GIPHY

A brain can only take so much.

Every five minutes, all day, every day, ludicrously stressful headlines push our mental limits as we struggle to adapt to a reality that seems increasingly less real. What’s a mind to do when simple denial just isn’t good enough anymore?

Radical suggestion: repeal and replace. And by that we mean take all the bad news that keeps you up at night, press pause, and substitute it with some genuine (not nervous, for a change) laughter. Here are some of the issues on our mind.

Gender Inequality

Feminist bookstore owners by day, still feminist bookstore owners by night, Toni and Candace show the male gaze who’s boss. Learn about their origin story (SPOILER: there’s an epic dance battle) and see what happens when their own brand of empowerment gets out of hand.


From Candace’s heart attack to the rise of the rawvolution, this Portlandia episode proves that healthcare is vital.

Peaceful Protests

Too many online petitions, too little time? Get WOKE with Fred and Carrie when they learn how to protest.

What Could Have Been

Can’t say the name “Clinton” without bursting into tears? Documentary Now!’s masterfully political “The Bunker” sheds a cozy new light on the house that Bill and Hill built. Just pretend you don’t know how the story really ends.

Fake News

A healthy way to break the high-drama news cycle is to switch over to “Dronez”, which has all the thrills of ubiquitous adventure journalism without any of the customary depression.

The more you watch, the better you feel. So get started on past episodes of Documentary Now! and Portlandia right now at IFC.com and the IFC app.

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