Movies: Ruby Sparks & the Abusive Relationship*.

I first went into Ruby Sparks thinking it was going to be just another quirky, indie (500) Days of Summer-esque vehicle to cement writer and star Zoe Kazan as the newest Manic Pixie Dream Girl of the same first name to watch.

For the first third of the movie, I wasn’t wrong. It deals with main character Calvin’s decade-long writers block and feelings of “inadequacy” at not being able to live up to his “genius” and “boy wonder” monikers upon the release of his first (and only) novel when he was in his late teens. Naturally, the role of titular character and token MPDG, Ruby, is to come into Calvin’s life in a whirlwind of “messy”-ness, complication and coloured tights and help him out of his creative rut. Ruby Sparks is the exception to the MPDG rule, though, as where (500) Days’ Summer and Sam of Garden State are real women (though “girls” would be a more accurate description) whom the male protagonists envision as their ideal mates, Ruby is literally Calvin’s dream lover: he wrote her on his pretentious typewriter.

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Kazan responds to the idea of Ruby Sparks as a critique of the MPDG and how she didn’t initially have that goal when she wrote the screenplay. She also talks about the twist in the third act in which Calvin’s need to have Ruby conform to his dream girl stereotype turns into an abusive obsession with controlling her:

“I think if you’re going to make a movie in which a man can control a woman, if you don’t push it to the extreme, it’s going to be sexist.”

It’s funny she said that, as I had trouble reconciling the fact that a seemingly switched-on woman wrote Ruby Sparks with the first half of it which, as I mentioned above, had one of the only female characters succumb to the idea of what a certain kind of woman should be. (Then again, men don’t have a monopoly on sexism.) “You haven’t written a person; you’ve written a girl,” Calvin’s brother, Harry, tells him upon reading his first draft.

Ruby is a girl who at first seems like a fun-loving, spirited artist with no threatening aspirations of capitalising on her illustrative talents (she admits she’s “super good”) by parlaying them into a career. When Ruby does express a desire to get out of the house more, meet some people and maybe get a job, Calvin begs her to stay with him because “I don’t need anyone else”, and neither should she.

It emerges that Calvin’s last serious lover was a novelist, too, whom he bumps into at a book party at which Ruby frolics in her underwear in the pool with Calvin’s agent and subsequently gets slut-shamed by her boyfriend for it. Calvin’s ex tells him that “it’s like you had this image of me and anything I did to contradict it you just ignored… The only person you wanted to be in a relationship with was you.”

Ruby in her original form, before Calvin starts making “tweaks” the moment she develops some autonomy, is essentially a female version of her creator. Not only has Kazan taken the notion of the MPDG and the trope’s traditional role in shaping and changing her male counterparts’ life and turned it on its head, but she has indeed taken Ruby and Calvin’s relationship to the extreme in the ultimate spin on intimate partner abuse.

When Ruby’s had enough and suggests she stay at her apartment after the book party, Calvin reveals he has utter control over her because she’s not real. While on the surface the suspension of disbelief required by the audience makes this a true statement in the context of the film, the more insidious subtext is that Calvin has such a skewed view of what women should be that it seems he’s saying that not only does Ruby not exist in real life, but nor do real women in his. In fact, they’re more like domestic animals to be controlled, as with Calvin’s written manipulation of Ruby in this scene where he types her on all fours barking like a dog: the ultimate act of degradation.

Speaking of dogs, Calvin’s inferiority complex which so many abusive partners have is evident in his treatment of his dog, Scotty, named for fellow tortured soul and wife-beater, F. Scott Fitzgerald. He prefers the idea of a dog as opposed to actually being a pet owner, because he’d like fellow park-goers to “stop to pet him and I would meet them but Scotty gets scared when people try to pet him”. He gets defensive when Scotty goes to the toilet like a female canine as, by extension, it threatens Calvin’s masculinity. Of course Calvin appropriates Ruby’s shine to Scotty despite or perhaps because of his oddities into a metaphor for her feelings towards her future abuser.

If it wasn’t for the happily-ever-after cop-out of an ending, what initially seemed like the indie movie du jour has turned into a commentary on Manic Pixie Dream Girls and the danger of emotionally abusive relationships.

Related: Ruby Sparks & the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

Elsewhere: [HuffPo] Zoe Kazan, Ruby Sparks Writer & Star: “Quirky” Means Nothing.

*Blanket spoiler alert.

Image via Groucho Reviews.

TV: The Beautiful & Damned—Serena Settles for Second Best.

 

Blake Lively’s had no problem keeping herself in the news since Gossip Girl finished for the year.

She’s allegedly dating Leonardo DiCaprio, her apparent naked body is all over the tabloids, and her biggest movie to date, The Green Lantern with Ryan Reynolds, is pending release.

She met DiCaprio through Baz Luhrmann, who’s directing the Titanic star in his adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, a movie for which Lively was in the running to play Daisy Buchanan, a role that went to English rose Carey Mulligan.

In the season final of Gossip Girl Lively’s character, Serena van der Woodsen, is told by her former high school headmistress that she’s disappointed Serena didn’t leave New York City to go to college, and find her identity away from the pull of the city. This prompts her to finally make a choice between Dan and Nate, which was one of the cliffhangers of last season’s final.

Serena ends up choosing herself, which is commendable for a character who can never be alone and always needs the spotlight on her. But it seems like choosing herself is her second third best option, as both Dan and Nate have moved on from Serena.

Much like Serena’s apparent screenwriting job for the latest movie adaptation of The Beautiful & Damned in the final is second choice to Lively’s Great Gatsby aspirations.

As Fitzgerald writes in his most famous work:

“… All the time something within her was crying for a decision. She wanted her life shaped now, immediately…”

Maybe Lively isn’t such a bad choice to play Daisy after all…

Related: Gossip Girl Season 4 Final.

Who Speculates About Domestic Violence in the Affleck/Garner Household.

Pretty But Dumb: Serena’s Tertiary Education Predicament.

Surfing the Third Wave: Second Wave VS. Third Wave Feminism on Gossip Girl.

Images via MegaVideo.

Event: Evolution of the Bookshop at the Wheeler Centre.

I never thought a seemingly boring panel conversation about e-books versus hard copy print media would trump a discussion about masculinity in Australia, but it seems “The Evolution of the Bookshop” has come out on top when it comes to talks I’ve seen at the Wheeler Centre lately.

I’m a bit late reporting on this one, but a couple of weeks ago I attended “The Evolution of the Bookshop”, which entailed the panel of Michael Webster, Corrie Perkin, Jo Case and Chris Flynn, with Sally Heath as the facilitator.

The main item of contention on the agenda was the receivership of the REDgroup, which includes Borders and Angus & Robertson (for those of you living under a rock in recent months) and how online shopping from overseas stores, like Amazon and the Book Depository, may have contributed.

2010 was a good year for books in Australia, actually, as Webster, of RMIT and Nielson BookScan, pointed out in a riveting (no, I’m not kidding!) spreadsheet. There was no denying the large amount of Australian dollars that were spent online on books, what with parity and all that jazz, and the panel urged the audience to buy local throughout the night.

But when Flynn, fiction editor of The Australian Review of Books, compared the prices of all the books he bought over the course of a year at Borders (the devil’s bookstore, according to the panel!), Readings (of which Case is a staff member) and the Book Depository (there was over $1000 difference between online and at a bricks and mortar bookstore), it doesn’t bode well for physical bookstores.

Personally, I’m not in the financial bracket to be supporting local bookstores when I can get the books I want online for half the price at a click of a button.

Earlier this year, I went into Borders at Melbourne Central wanting to purchase Marilyn Monroe’s Fragments, The Great Gatsby and Sloane Crosley’s two books of essays (which you may remember me writing about here). They had none of them in store. An hour later I was at home on Amazon, $70 poorer but immeasurably happier that four brand new books were on their way to me.

Case made the case (haha!) for the experience of shopping at a bookstore, but Flynn countered with the presumption that people who shop online probably already belong to an online community, and thus their experience at an online bookstore is just as valid and important as at a physical one.

As the owner of her own bookshop, Perkin asserted that she just can’t compete with free shipping and the iPhone app Shazam, which allows users to record a piece of music, to which the app generates the full details of and where you can buy it online.

But independent bookstores compete on service, not price. Perkin relayed the example of running out of Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals recipe book and being told that the next shipment wouldn’t be for awhile as it was, and is, a very popular title. She was forced to buy copies of the book on the Book Depository at her own expense, and provide them to her customers who had already committed to the title via pre-sale. Now that is service!

Flynn countered that whether we like it or not, e-readers have hijacked traditional forms of reading, but based on a show of hands, not one person at the Wheeler Centre that night owned or read books on an e-reader.

On a side note, I will be visiting the best second-hand bookstore I’ve ever been to over the weekend, and there’ll be more to come on that next week.

Related: “Who the Bloody Hell Are We?”: The Sentimental Bloke at the Wheeler Centre.

The Ten Books I Wanted to Read This Year But Didn’t.

All Eyes on Marilyn.

Images via Crunch Gear, TS Bookshop, Lance Wiggs.

Books: The Ten Books I Wanted to Read This Year But Didn’t.

Again, I don’t do New Years resolutions, but hopefully in listing the books I didn’t get around to reading in 2010 in a public forum where reviews are commonplace (um, this blog, for those of you not keeping track), I’ll be forced to devour in 2011.

1. Countdown to Lockdown by Mick Foley. I’ve been very vocal about my love for Mick Foley in recent months, and I was lucky enough to receive his latest memoir (number four, but who’s counting?) for my birthday, two months ago. I’ve been eagerly anticipating having enough time to dive into it headfirst, and I’m hoping it’ll be the first I check off my list this coming year.

2. Fragments by Marilyn Monroe, Bernard Comment & Stanley Buchthal. I love Marilyn Monroe, both as an icon (though I wouldn’t go as far as to have her image tattooed on me, à la Megan Fox), and as a fascinating person who had many layers, some of which are peeled away with the release of this book. This is a high priority read.

3. Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier. I loved Girl with a Pearl Earring and The Lady & the Unicorn, so something tells me I’m going to love Remarkable Creatures, about two female fossil hunters in 19th century England. The subject matter is a bit left-of-centre for historical fiction, but it appeals to me nonetheless. I know I couple of friends who own copies of this book, so maybe I can bum a lend…?

4. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I have a tendency to build classics up in my mind before I’ve read them, and I’m then sorely disappointed. I have a feeling a similar effect will occur with The Great Gatsby, which I became interested in reading when I heard that it will be subjected to a movie remake at the hands of Baz Lurhmann. So bogan-esque, I know!

5. I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley. Crosley’s books have done the review rounds in some of my favourite and trusted mags, like Yen and Cleo, with nothing but good vibrations about her collection of essays.

6. How Did You Get This Number? by Sloane Crosley. Yes, this is Crosley’s second appearance on the list, but all the buzz surrounding her books and her clever, witty and sometimes snarky tone means I can’t wait to gobble them up!

7. The Genius & the Goddess: Arthur Miller & Marilyn Monroe by Jeffrey Meyer. I read a review of this tome earlier in the year, and it has stayed with me since. Most intriguingly, the book “houses an appendix detailing the illnesses and operations” Monroe had throughout her life.

8. The Way We Lived Then: Recollections of a Well-Known Name Dropper by Dominick Dunne. I can’t get me enough of Dominick Dunne, so it’s a surpriseeven to methat I haven’t read all of his books yet. This one is somewhat of an official memoir, as a lot of his fictional works blur the line between reality and fiction, Another City, Not My Own especially.

9. The Life & Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe by Andrew O’Hagan. In case you were wondering, I plan to do a lot of Monroe-related reading in 2011. This is one of the more imaginative books about her life.

10. The Prince, The Showgirl & Me and My Week with Marilyn by Colin Clarke. Both are the basis for the new Michelle Williams effort, My Week with Marilyn. Just while we’re on that, I’d like to sneak in another Monroe-inspired fiction: Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates, which another biopic starring Naomi Watts as Monroe is based on. Perhaps if I had picked up the copy I always see at my favourite second-hand bookstore, Bendigo Book Mark, it would have given me more incentive to read it. No, wait, that doesn’t work for the numerous other books I’ve got sitting there, just begging to be read…

Related: In Appreciation of Mick Foley.

The Witching Hour: Halloween/My Birthday at Witches in Britches Cabaret.

All Eyes on Marilyn.

Things Bogans Like.

Another City, Not My Own by Dominick Dunne Review.

Elsewhere: [Bookslut] Genius, Goddess: Reading Theatre.

[Bendigo Book Mark] Homepage.