Ruby Sparks

  • Review Date: July 23, 2012
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Romance
  • Release Year: 2012
  • Running Time: 104 minutes

Common Sense Media says

Indie romcom explores ego and love; language, sex talk.
  • Review Date: July 23, 2012
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Romance
  • Release Year: 2012
  • Running Time: 104 minutes





What parents need to know

Positive messages

A relationship has its own life and runs its own course. There's no trying to control it; you can only try your best and take a leap of faith. 

Positive role models

Calvin and Ruby are flawed and fascinating, sometimes simultaneously. Calvin wants to know himself and why he is the way he is (though he fights against the truth sometimes); Ruby is warm, open, and embracing.


One particularly raw, potentially disturbing depiction of an intense argument between a couple. One resists the control with aggressive exertions, and it's sometimes difficult to watch. 


Kissing/tenderness, flirting (including a scene in which Ruby says she's not wearing any panties), and sometimes-crude verbal references/allusions to sex -- including oral sex and other activities. Cleavage and a woman's bare shoulders/back (implying nudity) are seen; some shots of a woman in underwear.


Words include several uses of "f--k," plus "s--t," "c--k," "poon," "jacks--t," "a--hole," "laid," "damn," "t-ts," and "oh my God."


Labels referenced or seen include Apple, LifeFitness, Olympia, Crispix, BMW, and Prozac.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Social drinking. References to being stoned or smoking dope. Characters share a joint in one scene.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that indie romance Ruby Sparks is layered and hard to classify, despite its romcom positioning. It has moments of whimsy but also intense scenes that may be too heavy for younger teens and tweens. There's no nudity beyond some bare shoulders, but expect some swearing (including "f--k"), references to sex (including oral sex), and social drinking, as well as complex explorations into the nature of relationships.

Parents say

Kids say

What's the story?

Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) is a Los Angeles wunderkind who wrote a seminal novel at the tender age of 19 but now, at 29, can't quite produce his sophomore masterpiece. Then he wakes from a dream pulsing with creativity and an obsession with the girl he found in it, a pretty and maddeningly charming painter named Ruby (Zoe Kazan). At the urging of his shrink (Elliott Gould), Calvin writes about Ruby until, without explanation, he has, as his brother (Chris Messina) points out, "manifested" her. Ruby appears in Calvin's kitchen, an amazing girlfriend at the ready. Calvin discovers he can control Zoe by simply writing her, but is that what he wants? And is that what's best for Zoe?

Is it any good?


The first half of RUBY SPARKS is near perfection. Within the first 10 minutes, it feels like you're in for a real treat: a romantic comedy that's neither stale nor trying too hard. A lot of this has to do with the film's premise, which is brilliant on so many levels, the least of which is love. While it's true that you'll walk away with questions worth pondering -- What's it like being in a relationship with someone who does everything you want them to do? Can a couple survive when one grows and the other one doesn't? -- Ruby Sparks also makes you think about the nature of art, especially when it comes to writing. 

The second half of the film is compelling, too, but the tonal shift is so abrupt that it's jarring, and you're left wondering what it would have been like had the film gone down a more whimsical, magical, and quite likely just as poignant (and wise) path as the one it ends up pursuing. Given the ending (no spoilers!), you might even wonder why the filmmakers went down that initial route in the first place. Grit thrown into the froth of a cutesy indie romance has its rewards -- and Ruby Sparks is certainly rewarding overall -- but was a more potent movie sacrificed? Either way, this one is still a prize.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about Calvin's "creation." What would it be like to be able to control the actions of a loved one? Would you want to?

  • What is Ruby Sparks saying about the nature of creativity and art? What about relationships?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:July 25, 2012
DVD release date:October 30, 2012
Cast:Annette Bening, Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan
Directors:Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Studio:Fox Searchlight
Run time:104 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:language, including some sexual references, and for some drug use

This review of Ruby Sparks was written by

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  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Adult Written byBestPicture1996 March 13, 2014

Ruby fizzles

Here's the thing: I'm not sure if it's the last 2 movies I've seen Paul Dano in, "Prisoners" and "12 Years a Slave," where he played antagonists in both, but I just can't see him as a leading man. He's more of a featured player, like his assured, mute debut in "Little Miss Sunshine." Here he indulges in Planet Nepotism with his girlfriend/screenwriter/actress Zoe Kazan, who surely saves this movie from becoming "generic indie movie number 5020." Kazan has charisma to boot, but she's given the most interesting fact, the only interesting role, besides Antonio Banderas' brief role as Dano's free spirited stepfather. The quirkiness and cuteness feel forced, but as a writer, I certainly appreciated the wit and message "Sparks" was trying to convey: sometimes writers fall for their own creations. It just didn't reach what it was going for...for me.
What other families should know
Too much swearing
Teen, 13 years old Written byThe Cheap Seats November 23, 2012

She's Out of His Mind

Ruby Sparks features excellent writing and directing with a great performance by Zoe Kazan. Is thought-provoking but believe it or not, Paul Dano is my real problem with the film. Has some light sexual content and dialogue, infrequent heavy language, and some mild drinking, drug use, and smoking. Nothing too bad and it good for a mature twelve year old and up. A-.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking


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