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I'd like to think that my love for "Ruby Sparks" — an oddly delightful romantic comedy that marks the screenwriting debut of its star, Zoe Kazan — doesn't stem from the fact that it's about a writer who creates a character, a girlfriend, that comes to life. But, as the movie argues, writers aren't necessarily to be trusted, especially when it comes to matters of the heart.

The writer here is Calvin Weir-Fields (played by Paul Dano), whose first masterpiece was published a decade ago and is still the most notable thing on his résumé. One night, he has a dream about the perfect girlfriend — and his psychiatrist (Elliott Gould) recommends that Calvin write down everything about his dream girl, in hopes that it will help him overcome his writer's block. So Calvin sits at his typewriter and starts writing about Ruby Sparks.

The next morning, Ruby (played by Kazan) suddenly appears in his kitchen — eating cereal and wearing Calvin's shirt as if she just left his bed (which she says she did).

Neither Kazan's script nor husband-and-wife directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (in their first movie since their mega-successful debut in "Little Miss Sunshine") try to explain the magic that brought Ruby to life. Ruby just is, and everything else spins naturally out of that single matter-of-fact decision.

Calvin, after a mild freak-out in which he determines that Ruby isn't only in his life but also is visible to everyone else, falls in love with Ruby and vice versa. He introduces Ruby to his horndog brother (Chris Messina) and eventually to his flower-power mom (Annette Bening) and her crazed-artist boyfriend (Antonio Banderas). But as the relationship deepens, it becomes complicated and more like real life — and Calvin, believing he's created the perfect woman, has a hard time dealing with the notion that Ruby is also her own person.

Kazan and Dano, a duo in real life (who appeared together in the frontier drama "Meek's Cutoff"), have a delicate and charming chemistry onscreen. His hesitancy and deprecation dovetail nicely with her perky exuberance, and together they create one of the most engaging movie-romance couples we have seen in ages. Kazan is especially powerful in the movie's harrowing conclusion, when all the implications of Ruby's existence are played out in one shattering confrontation.

Kazan's smart and sweet script creates in Ruby not just the perfect girlfriend but the perfect commentary on the limitations writers — particularly screenwriters of both genders — put on their female characters. But Dayton and Faris, in their even-handed balance of gender roles, bring out this meta-subtext without letting it overwhelm Kazan's funny, happy love story.


'Ruby Sparks'

A struggling author writes himself a girlfriend in this sweet and sharp romantic comedy.

Where • Broadway Centre Cinemas, Century 16 (South Salt Lake).

When • Opens Friday, Aug. 10.

Rating • R for language including some sexual references, and for some drug use.

Running time • 104 minutes.

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