Vanity Fair had the right idea late last year when it started recapping episodes of the comedy series New Girl by categorizing each of Zooey Deschanel’s idiosyncrasies as either “adorkable” (a personality trait described as dorky and adorable) or “tweepulsive” (the same trait, but at a more cloying level). It’s not a standard gauge for most critics, but with a surge of overly-quirky scripts like Ruby Sparks finding their way to the big and small screen in the last few years, it’s one that definitely needs to be adopted faster than Greta Gerwig can ride her vintage Schwinn to a nerdcore concert. Aren’t stereotypes fun?
Add the name Zoe Kazan (granddaughter of legendary director Elia Kazan) into the ever-growing list of annoyingly charming actresses who will find it difficult to inject the right amount of cuteness into a role before someone decides they want to put a pillow over said actress’s face. The possibility for asphyxiation is two-fold for Kazan, who not only stars in Sparks but is also credited as the lone screenwriter. The story follows Calvin (Paul Dano), a novelist with writer’s block who writes a female character (with his typewriter, of course) for his new book and is stunned when she appears in the real world.
Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine), Sparks is a clever little idea reminiscent of 2006’s underappreciated Will Ferrell comedy Stranger Than Fiction. Its problem, however, lies in Kazan’s calculated screenplay, which never materializes into anything as interesting as its initial concept. Kazan shows signs of potential, but she fluffs up Sparks instead of examining its darker elements. Until she learns naming a writer’s dog F. Scott Fitzgerald is beyond pretentious (and even more so if she is being ironic), she’ll settle somewhere in the middle of the pack where writers suffering from writer’s block isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
★★ ½ (out of 5 stars)
Dir. Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris; writ. Zoe Kazan; feat. Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Chris Messina, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, Aasif Mandvi, Steve Coogan (R)