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On the couch

Ruby Sparks
*****
Directed by: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Farisb
Starring: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Chris Messina, Annette Benning, Elliott Gould

Pusher
***
Directed by: Luis Prieto
Starring: Richard Coyle, Agyness Deyn, Bronson Webb, Mem Ferda, Zlatko Buric

Ruby Sparks is not what you think. Ruby Sparks may well have lied to you or be lying to you right now.
Ruby Sparks is not to be trusted.

 

 

While it may look like a rom-com and even be packaged like one, Zoe Kazan’s brilliantly written tale of love gone weird is something far, far more interesting.

Kazan, who wrote the screenplay, stars as the titular Ruby, a woman who doesn’t, or at least shouldn’t exist. Sprung from the mind of Calvin Weir-Field (Paul Dano) at the behest of his shrink (Elliot Gould), she is the product of a writing project, an effort by the brilliant but neurotic author to imagine his perfect woman.
How she springs from the page to reality is never addressed but two things are quickly confirmed – Ruby is real and Calvin can still “write” her. If he types “Ruby speaks French” his belle parle en Francais.

It’s at this point that Ruby Sparks deviates from the standard rom-com path. Rather than following the well-beaten path of meet-cute-initial happiness-crisis/shocking revelation-breakup-reconciliation-live happily ever after, the story looks at what might happen if something extraordinary happened to, well, a bit of a Richard. For that is what Calvin is and, after the initial sheen of the new relationship wears off, he has to cope with what happens if the women he has written to be his perfect partner isn’t quite so smitten with him.

Brilliantly cast, Paul Dano is neither the typically handsome romantic lead (yes, Paul Rudd, you know your type…) nor the comically cuddly Seth Rogan type. Dano looks like an average bloke. A nerdy, writer type bereft of square jaw, six-pack or rippling anything.

On top of that Calvin isn’t a particularly nice man. Brilliant, yes. He’s quickly established to be a latter-day JD Sallinger, having written a critically and commercially successful book early in his career. The pressure of writing a follow-up combined with a whole host of neuroses and a generous helping of self-obsession adds up to make Ruby’s creator something of a prize pig. Bravely, Dano doesn’t shy away from this and brings a humanity to the character despite his flaws in a performance reminiscent of a young James Spader.

In a role that would, but for the dark turns the script takes, normally be played by Zooey “Queen of Kook” Deschanel, Kazan is impressive as Ruby. With her character’s behaviour apt to change on the push of a typewriter key, she manages to maintain the audience’s sympathy throughout.

As annoying as she gets you never forget that she is the put upon puppet at the centre of things and no more responsible for her actions than Super Mario is for his.

While Ruby Sparks may not be the heart-warming rom-com Valentine’s Day demands, it does have a huge amount of ‘rom’ in it and occasional flashes of ‘com’.

The ups and downs of the pair’s relationship are unpredictable and entertaining – assisted in no small part by the presence of the likes of Annette Benning and Antonio Banderas in supporting roles – and, despite his flaws, you can’t help hoping that Calvin will cop himself on and actually deserve a girl like Ruby.

Despite its peculiarity and fairytale basis, the story is frequently painfully accurate when it comes to the differences between idealised romance and the nitty-gritty of keeping a relationship alive and it ends up saying more about real romance than a slickly-edited sop-fest starring Freddie Prinze Jr.

A brilliant surprise and surprisingly brilliant.

Sadly the same cannot be said for Pusher, a film not directed by Nicholas Winding-Refyn. Before becoming known internationally as the brains behind Drive, NWR was known for his work on the Pusher trilogy, a cult sensation in Denmark that garnered a fair amount attention among fans of the ganster movie genre.

Pusher, the 2012 version, is a remake of the original, now set in London which, while not terrible, comes across as a weaker, less satisfying film altogether.

The flick focuses on a week from hell for drug dealer Frank (Richard Coyle). He gets put behind the eight-ball when a number of his deals come crashing down all at the same time. He goes from his normal life of selling and doing drugs to frantically trying to avoid the goons of his main supplier while he scrambles to get some money together and pay off his debts.

There’s nothing particularly wrong about Pusher but it suffers greatly from comparison to the original. Gritty, but not gritty enough, it’s a competently made flick that simply lacks some of the spark that Winding-Refn’s version had.

The edge of grime and desperation that fuels the original is missing here, largely due to the gorgeousness of Coyle and his escort girlfriend Flo (well played by model Agyness Deyn).

Zlatko Buric is brilliant as Frank’s supplier, the Serbian drug baron Milo and Paul Kaye (and his hideous teeth) make a memorable cameo as a customer with delusions of grandeur but there isn’t enough meat here to care about chances of survival.

Maybe, without the shadow of the original, Pusher could appear fresher or more vital, but probably not. See the real one.

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