Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: Nesting vs. Ruby Sparks, two films about adorable hipsters who find themselves in ruts—and the surprising hijinks that transpire when they look for inspiration.
Premise The trailer for Nesting starts with a revelation—Neil, a thirtysomething guy, realizes that he and wife Sarah are no longer cool young people, but rather yuppie Gen X-ers. (He knows a lot of Nirvana trivia, you see, but can also immediately name who won the last season of The Bachelor.) In search of the spontaneity and spark that once made their relationship so exciting, Neil and Sarah move back to the neighborhood they lived in as twentysomethings (Silverlake, naturally) and start attempting to relive their glory days. Mostly, it seems, what that means is having a lot of sex and falling down (on bikes, from buildings) sometimes.
The trailer for Ruby Sparks, on the other hand, starts with a lack of revelation—Calvin is a writer suffering writer’s block, who explains to his therapist (Elliott Gould!) that, “I get a good idea, and then bam, I start thinking that it’s the stupidest thing ever.” In a variation on the Pygmalion myth, salvation comes in the form of Ruby Sparks, a character Calvin creates and then promptly falls in love with. Ruby comes to life, and Calvin has to contend with the fact that his words play out in her—i.e., if he writes that she can speak French (or do any number of other things…), she does.
Though the existence of magic in Ruby‘s universe probably provides for some fun moments in the film, we can’t help feeling a little skeeved out by its premise—how much of an egotist do you have to be to fall in love with a character of your own creation? It’s hard to imagine a way in which the film doesn’t end up casting Ruby as a huge Manic Pixie Dream Girl. (For the record, we’ve always felt the same way about the Pygmalion myth.) We’re hoping maybe the film interrogates the MPDG trope, rather than just perpetuating it—Zoe Kazan wrote the screenplay, and she’s always seemed smart to us—but if so, the trailer doesn’t let on. Advantage: Nesting
Cast Nesting stars Todd Grinnell, who is very cute but not yet very well-known—he’s been on tons of TV shows, including a recurring role on Desperate Housewives—along with Ali Hillis, also very cute, who also gets plenty of work but probably wouldn’t be recognized for any of it. (Weirdly, she also does a ton of voice work for video games and animated shows.) They seem nice, but there’s no way Ruby Sparks isn’t winning this one, with indie darlings (and real-life lovebirds) Zoe Kazan and Paul Dano and older talent, too, like Antonio Banderas (who doesn’t appear in the trailer, so we’re curious about his role), Annette Bening, and—say it with us!—Elliott Gould! Advantage: Ruby Sparks
Director Ruby Sparks was directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, whose last film, Little Miss Sunshine, was in 2006. They’ve also directed a bunch of music videos and some episodes of Mr. Show. The director of Nesting is pretty green by comparison, with just one short and one previous feature under his belt (though we’ll grant that the feature, a documentary about a comedian trying to perform 13 comedy shows in one night, looks pretty interesting). Advantage: Ruby Sparks
Hipster Signifiers Both films, it seems, are catering to the same demographic: hipsters in their mid-20s to mid-30s. But which has more to offer them? With Ruby Sparks, there’s Calvin’s glasses (hipstery) and his retro insistence on writing his novel on a typewriter (very, very hipstery) in various plaid shirts; plus, Ruby and Calvin hang out at a casino (ironically?), a rock show, and an arcade, all in a single montage starting at 1:03. And check out Ruby’s haircut, which she seems to have borrowed directly from cooler-than-cool Vivian Girls/La Sera musician Katy Goodman, at 1:43. Solid showing, all around! Nesting puts up a good fight, too, though: Neil wears a Silversun Pickups t-shirt while drinking Stella with his pal; we get some B-roll of record stores and Mexican dives; the couple goes to shows at hip music venues and has coffee at an adorable coffeeshop. What tilts the scales in their favor is when they invite a bunch of super-attractive young strangers to their apartment at 2:05 (including one with a mustache in the background; look closely!). The filmmakers clearly want us to understand their movie has street cred, and who are we to deny them that? Advantage: Nesting
Comedy Both trailers are a little more clever than they are laugh-out-loud funny, but each has its moments. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’ve become bland. I guess you really can’t take that any way but the wrong way,” Neil’s friend philosophizes in Nesting; later, when asked how Sarah handled the conversation in which he told her he wanted her to be more spontaneous, he sums it up as “Like I let a drunk Shetland pony loose inside my car.” We’re suspicious of that John Hughes joke at the end of the trailer—”I think I thought I was in a John Hughes movie for a second,” Sarah tells a new twentysomething friend, who looks at her blankly. “Oh no, seriously?” This falls flat for us, because of course twentysomethings who look like that girl would know who John Hughes is, but Hillis’ delivery is cute enough that we’ll let it go.
“Ruby got kicked out of high school for sleeping with her art teacher, or maybe her Spanish teacher; I haven’t decided yet,” Calvin explains in Ruby Sparks, with a funny little visual panning over a yearbook from one handsome teacher to another. There are a couple more visual jokes—Ruby throwing water in Calvin’s face when he asks strangers if they can see her, etc.—but the trailer’s biggest joke is probably Calvin’s brother’s entreaty to him in the car, near the end of the trailer: “You can make her do anything you want. For men everywhere, tell me you’re not gonna let that go to waste.” (Oh, ha-ha, he must mean blowjobs!) This joke loses the category for Ruby Sparks, because it’s weirdly coercive in a way that makes us uncomfortable. Advantage: Nesting
The Verdict This was a close race! We’re sure more people will see Ruby Sparks than Nesting—it’s sure to be the buzzy date movie of the summer, what with all that talent—not to mention being the first project from the Little Miss Sunshine directors in six years. But we’ve got to root for the underdog on this one; Ruby Sparks runs the risk of seeming a little saccharine, while Nesting mostly just seems sweet. Winner: Nesting
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