The Films of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
Little Miss Sunshine
Ruby Sparks (July 30/12)
Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, Ruby Sparks follows author Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) as his latest story, about a quirky, off-kilter girl named Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan), becomes more than just a work of art after said girl suddenly appears in Calvin's apartment - with the film, for the most part, detailing the unusual relationship that inevitably ensues between the two. In its early stages, however, Ruby Sparks revolves primarily around Calvin's ongoing struggles at following up a well-received debut novel - as one character notes, "it's easier if you've ever only been mediocre" - with the low-key, character-study sort of vibe heightened by both Dano's likeable performance and Dayton and Faris' sporadically exhilarating directorial choices. The tone changes dramatically once Kazan's character arrives on the scene, as Dayton and Faris, working from Kazan's screenplay, have peppered this stretch with an overtly comedic feel that proves impossible to resist (eg Calvin, walking down the street with what he assumes is an imaginary friend, attempts to downplay his responses to Ruby's ongoing enquires). The agreeable atmosphere is perpetuated by the genuine chemistry between Dano and Kazan, and there's little doubt that the film's inevitable transformation into a relatively conventional romcom isn't, as a result, quite as jarring as one might've feared. (It's just as clear, too, that the movie fares best in its scenes between Calvin and Ruby, as the narrative palpably stumbles when the emphasis is taken off the pair's exploits - with the best and most cogent example of this a terminally underwhelming stretch in which the protagonists visit with Calvin's hippie parents.) By the time the impressively dark third act rolls around, Ruby Sparks has certainly established itself as a satisfyingly off-beat romance that consistently stands apart from its bland brethren - with the sweet, note-perfect conclusion only confirming this feeling.
Battle of the Sexes
Inspired by true events, Battle of the Sexes follows top-rated women's tennis player Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) as she reluctantly agrees to play ex-champ Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) in a televised exhibition match. There's certainly plenty within Battle of Sexes to admire and enjoy - the performances are impressively stellar right across the board, for example - and yet the movie is ultimately unable to justify its more-than-two-hour running time, with Simon Beaufoy's bloated screenplay all-too-often bogging the proceedings down with scenes of a repetitive and/or entirely needless variety. This is never more true than in the film's ongoing emphasis on Billie Jean King's budding lesbianism, as the majority of such scenes, which ultimately dominate the movie's midsection, tend to bring the movie to a dead stop and wreak havoc on whatever momentum it had been accumulating. The decision to stress King's tug-of-war between her husband (Austin Stowell's Larry) and her newfound lover (Andrea Riseborough's Marilyn) paves the way for a tedious second act that predominantly resembles a run-of-the-mill domestic drama, and it's clear that the viewer's interest drops virtually to the point of non-existence in the buildup to the much-ballyhooed title match. There's little doubt, though, that Battle of the Sexes is saved, sort of, by a final stretch that's far more engrossing and exciting than one might've anticipated, with the note-perfect ending perpetuating the greatly improved feel and ensuring that the whole thing ends on an impressively positive note - which certainly makes the failure of everything preceding it seem even more unfortunate.