2 Movie Review: Safety Not Guaranteed and Ruby Sparks

At the end of the year, Wife-Unit and I sat down to watch some movies. These two, the time-travelling tale Safety Not Guaranteed and the philosophical rom-com Ruby Sparks, were surprisingly delightful.

Both of these films share traits that make them so charming – brilliant central performances, lovely, measured scripts and a kind of humble set of intentions that means that both of them under-promise and over-deliver. Also, lead actors wrote and produced the movies.

In Safety Not Guaranteed, a jaded journalist and his two interns go to investigate an ad in the newspaper searching for people to accompany the advertiser on a journey back in time. Aubrey Plaza from Parks and Recreation becomes the centre of the plot as her outsider character identifies with and bonds with the outsider character who thinks he can travel through time.

Looper was one of the best films of the year and was very serious and very expensive and very good. It was about time travel. Safety Not Guaranteed is not very serious and not awfully expensive but it is also very good. It is actually about marriage.

I think.

Ruby Sparks is about a halting author wrestling with the task of following up his critically adored and hugely successful debut. He has no real friends and no romantic interests. A girl comes to him in his dreams. He starts to write about her. Then she comes to him in reality. And the plot spins away from there into very rewarding territory. It is directed by the folks behind Little Miss Sunshine, so it is surprising it didn’t get a bigger play in the cineplexes.

The author of the screenplay, Zoe Kazan, plays the ideal woman of the author’s dreams. She is Ruby Sparks and she is the definitive skewering of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope that has become epidemic in American movies since Natalie Portman’s turn in Garden State. The scene where they swim at nighttime ought to be lethal to that 500 Days Of Summer style nonsense.

So you can see already, I suspect, the philosophical tangents that spring out of this plot. The ideal is not real and therefore the real is not ideal. The woman is the subject of the man’s devotion but not his attention. An other’s personhood, regardless of how intimate you become with them, remains incommensurable. The great thing about Ruby Sparks is that these ideas are hinted at as the story develops. The ideas don’t stall the story. We don’t feel lectured to or as if Kazan is taking an opportunity to show off. There is a story to tell about how bad we are at relationships, especially the ones we most dearly value. It is really very fine.

Perhaps I was especially dull the night we watched it, but like Safety Not Guaranteed, the ending had a lovely surprise factor. The final scenes in both movies were glee-inducing. You should track them down.

One of the lovely gifts Wife-Unit got me recently was The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers. In one of the chapters, she has a paragraph that was an apposite accompaniment to Ruby Sparks:

That no human maker can create a self-conscious being, we have already seen; and seen also that he is always urged by an inward hankering to do so, finding approximate satisfactions for this desire in procreation, in such relations as those of a playwright with his actors, and in the creation of imaginary characters. In all these relations, he is conscious of the same paradoxical need – namely, the complete independence of the creature combined with its willing co-operation in his purpose in conformity with the law of its nature. In this insistent need he sees the image of the perfect relation of Creator and creature, and the perfect reconciliation of divine predestination with free created will.

– Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker, p. 111.

Your Correspondent, Is all for killing your idols