To commemorate the fifth anniversary of the underrated and utterly sublime gem, “Ruby Sparks,” I am sharing my interviews with the film’s writer/star Zoe Kazan, her co-star Paul Dano and directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. The first two conversations were originally published on July 23rd, 2012 at HollywoodChicago.com.
He’s the accomplished actor best known for locking horns with Daniel Day-Lewis in Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece, “There Will Be Blood.” She’s the acclaimed playwright who’s earned raves for her acting both onstage (“Angels in America”) and onscreen (“The Exploding Girl”). Together, they are a match made in movie heaven.
The new romantic comedy, “Ruby Sparks,” marks the latest collaboration of real-life couple Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan, who first met after being cast in Jonathan Marc Sherman’s 2007 Off-Broadway play, “Things We Want.” Last year, Dano and Kazan played an anguished married couple in Kelly Reichardt’s existential western “Meek’s Cutoff.” Yet “Sparks” features the couple’s most intimate and complex collaboration to date. Kazan performs double duty as leading lady and first-time screenwriter, while Dano tackles the tricky role of a lonely writer whose lovable neurosis harbors a potentially repellant dark side.
The film centers on Calvin (Dano), a young author who hasn’t been able to deliver on the promise of his beloved first novel. Heartsick after the demise of a long-term relationship, Calvin writes about an idealized girlfriend named Ruby Sparks, and starts to fall in love with her. Then, one day, Calvin awakens to discover Ruby (Kazan) in his apartment. Though this premise may appear to be an exercise in wish-fulfillment, Kazan turns it into a biting satire on the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype, as well as a fascinating meditation on the need to control a relationship, and how it halts one from truly connecting with another person.
Hollywood Chicago spoke separately with Dano and Kazan about the benefits of working together, their collaboration with directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (who previously worked with Dano on “Little Miss Sunshine”) and their future filmmaking goals.
PART I: PAUL DANO
“She’s out of his mind” is a great tagline. Who came up with it?
I don’t know. Part of the fun of making this movie was getting to be involved in all of the elements of it. It was the first time I saw different variations of posters, taglines and all that kind of thing. There were a few other good ones.
How involved were you during the writing process? Was Zoe open to getting feedback from you?
With this one, she was open. She’s written plays and it’s not like I always see what she’s writing, but because she was writing this one with us in mind, I would come home at night and she would have new pages and I’d read them. I’d try to be a good boyfriend and be there for her as a writer and be supportive. I’d also try to be the best bounce board that I could be, give what feedback I could or if I had good questions, I’d ask them. I just wanted to be there to engage and have a conversation with her for her sake as a writer. I would do that for her anytime on anything she’s writing. She’s the writer and I just try to be there for her.
There’s a moment in “Little Miss Sunshine” where you blow a straw wrapper at Greg Kinnear’s head. It got a big laugh in the theater, and in his book, screenwriter Michael Arndt cited the moment as your idea.
That’s interesting. I don’t remember who came up with that. I’d say that the script was very well written and we mostly stuck to that. There’s no reason to deviate from it. There were a few moments of looseness in some scenes, and that’s what you hope for because film is a collaborative form. You hope that at every stage of it, somebody’s going to come in and make something come to life a little bit more. It starts with the writing, and then you have your director, production designer, cinematographer and all of the actors. Hopefully it all comes together. That might just be a good example of somebody coming up with something on the day that has a little bit of magic to it, it works and it gets into the film. Not every ensemble clicks together. It’s all about having the chemistry with other actors and having the right words to inspire us, and in the editing room, Jon and Val knowing how to help make that flow. Truthfully, it’s sort of ineffable at the end of the day. You don’t know why something ends up working so well, that’s why it feels so good.
What was it about Jon and Val that made you realize that they would be right for this material?
I think it was just a creative sensibility. I think it was clear even though I didn’t know where the story was going. I suggested Jon and Valerie about ten pages into Zoe’s writing. It wasn’t very far, and I didn’t have a clue where it was going, but it was something about the sensibility and tone. I knew that it would hopefully be something that was funny, but also something with depth and heart and a little darkness. There would be a magical element that also needed to feel really grounded and real so you would care about the characters, and when something magical happens again, you’re invested emotionally and you can’t write it off just because it can’t really happen. You need to feel like it is really happening.
I loved working with Jon and Val the first time. They’re wonderful people, and I think they’re such gifted filmmakers. I actually brought Zoe to their house in LA one time. I said, “You’ve got to meet my new girlfriend,” and I knew that they would get along. It had nothing to do with work. Zoe either instantly agreed or was already subconsciously thinking that they would be the right directors. Our producers Albert [Berger] and Ron [Yerxa] also thought they should be the first people we send the script to. They were our dream directors and we were very lucky to get them.
Has your offscreen relationship with Zoe enhanced your onscreen work together?
I would hope so. Hopefully there’s a chemistry and intimacy that Zoe and I can bring. There are certain things that we have to separate from our real lives—this is Calvin and Ruby’s experience, not Paul and Zoe’s. But there are certain things that we can bring to it as well. Even down to the four of us, I think Jon, Val, Zoe and I got to know each other very well before filming and had such an intimate collaboration. There’s always the hope that you’re going to feel that in the film, feel the love and care that went into it somehow. It was nice to be in it with Zoe and be constantly daydreaming about it together.
It’s fun to compare your chemistry in “Ruby Sparks” to your portrayal of a married couple in “Meek’s Cutoff.”
On “Meek’s Cutoff,” it was so nice to have Zoe there because it was a physical shoot, and it was tough. It was in the desert, and we were walking with oxen everyday. The weather was crazy. I consider that such a different working experience compared to [“Ruby Sparks”]. This was so much more intense and close and intimate. There’s a lot more scenes where we’re with each other, so I didn’t even compare the two in my mind as a personal experience with Zoe.
Let’s jump to “There Will Be Blood” for a moment. The final scenes of that film play like a Kubrickian “Dawn of Man” in reverse with you and Daniel devolving into primitive beings, while the bowling pin evokes the bone in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Do you see any correlation to Kubrick in that film?
Well, now I do. I know I love Kubrick and I’m sure that Paul Anderson loves Kubrick. It was certainly something that was never discussed with me consciously. I think that Paul’s greatest virtue is that he is all guts. I think that’s in his writing, and you can tell it in the emotional potency of his work. It’s coming at you really hard, and it’s balls to the wall. As much of a film buff as Paul might be, my sense of how he works is just a lot of guts. That [interpretation] feels more intellectual to me, but who knows? You’d have to ask him. But it’s really fun to think about the film in that detail. I appreciate it. That’s great.
You didn’t have very long to prepare for that role, did you?
I had about three or four days. A part of me thought that it was a great thing to not have any time to prepare. I just had to go with my gut instinct and didn’t have a lot of time to second guess myself or get nervous. But part of me was like, “Okay, I have three to four days before my first day of filming and Daniel Day-Lewis is probably the actor who prepares the most for his work out of anybody.” So I had to just go with that irony and get in there and do it. Luckily the words were so good that most if it was just there and that was my gut interpretation of it. I remember learning lines the night before. When you have a five-page scene with Daniel Day-Lewis in a Paul Thomas Anderson movie, the ideal circumstance is not to be learning the lines the night before. But that’s how it went and maybe it’s actually a good thing.
Do you have any aspirations to write or direct?
I can’t wait to direct a film. I want to very badly. I’m trying to figure out something to do at some point. I hope I get to make a film in the next five or so years, but I do like acting. I feel really proud of this film, and as I’m getting towards my late 20s, there’s a lot I want to do as an actor now. I started young and I always just wanted to try and become a better actor. Now there are particular things I want to do, and I actually feel more ambitious about the acting part of it too. I don’t know if I’ll write a film or not. I certainly would never try to write a novel or anything like that. I love books, and I have way too much respect for them to put a bad book out there. I could maybe write a screenplay someday or maybe not. It’s hard.
The greatest virtue Jon and Val have for me is that they could’ve made many films after “Little Miss Sunshine,” and they didn’t because they just didn’t feel like the scripts were 100 percent yet and they were working on things. That’s more of a ’70s approach. Let’s get it on the page first and that gives you the best chance of making a film. Then we can try to make it better onset and even better in the editing room, but let’s not have the script be 70 percent. If I ever write something or develop something, I will be very keen on getting everything on the page as best as I can, and then make a film. I’ve worked on films where the script isn’t finished, and I could never work that way myself. As an actor, I could maybe do it if I believed in it or knew enough about it.
It just comes down to care and hard work and being invested in the process and trusting that’s going to get the result you want rather than just trying to get to that result too quickly. I would like to make something where I have final cut. As a first-time filmmaker, that’s hard to get at the studio-level. I’m going to keep my mind open and try to find and develop something to make at some point. I get star-struck from meeting directors, not actors as much. They get me off the most.
PART II: ZOE KAZAN
Have you gleaned any inspiration from the work of your grandfather, Elia Kazan?
It’s a complicated question in some ways. The number one inspiration, not just from my grandpa but from my parents who are screenwriters, is having the example of someone who has made their life in a creative field and has done it no matter what. That’s a really unusual example to have set for you and I think extremely useful, just in terms of knowing that it’s possible. For me, my grandpa had retired by the time I was born and was just my grandpa. The work that he was doing and that his contemporaries were doing is the foundation of modern acting, so as an actor, there’s no way to not be influenced. But it’s a less personal influence than people would assume.
Have your parents provided you with any particular guidance?
It’s useful to have someone to call, and have their the empathy more than anything else. I’ll call and say, “I’m really struggling with this thing.” It was encouraging to have my parents be really interested in reading my dopey short stories when I was 7 years old.
Your play, “Absalom,” was hailed by some critics for its realism. What made you turn to fantasy in your screenwriting debut?
Plays should feel made for the theatre. To me, film is a magic medium. You’re sitting in the dark and watching something scaled so much larger than life. I never cry watching theatre and I cry at the movies all the time. I’m a cinephile, and I love the emotional experience of feeling taken away from yourself. What you can do simply with editing and the camera and music—there’s something magical about it. So when I first conceived of this idea, it seemed totally clear to me that it was a movie. In terms of how I wanted to explore fantasy, the story just came to me wholesale, and I thought that it was something I wanted to look at.
Did you always have Paul in mind for the role of Calvin?
I woke up one morning and the characters were in my head, I didn’t have a dream or anything. The first ten pages of the movie were just there. So I sat down, wrote them down and showed them to Paul and he said, “Are you writing this for us?” It had not occurred to me because I had been so taken by these people and they seemed really real to me. When he said that, I looked at what I had written, and it seemed completely clear: “tall, skinny, glasses, hasn’t gone to the gym in a very long time,” and I was like, “Oh, that’s Paul.” [laughs] But I tried not to think too much about us as I was writing because I really wanted them to speak clearly to me.
Did this script spawn from your own frustration with idealized roles for women in film, and the male objectification of females in modern media?
I’m trying to talk about a male fantasy of what a girl is like and the reality of what she’s actually like, that dichotomy. So yes, I’m thinking of male projection and objectification. The lack of three-dimensional female roles is a symptom of that, and frankly it enforces it. It was somewhere in my brain, otherwise it wouldn’t have come out of me, but it wasn’t first and foremost.
Has your offscreen relationship with Paul enhanced your onscreen work together?
I think it’s helpful. The first time I saw the movie, I was like, “There’s so little of us up there, but there’s so much of the trust between us.” We were able to go further than maybe we would have normally because we’re not afraid that the other person is going to reject us or judge us. We’ve been together almost five years, so I’ve seen it all. I’ve taken him to the emergency room, I’ve talked to him while he’s dead-ass drunk. There’s nothing left to be ashamed of, and it’s helpful to have a scene partner that you’re not embarrassed to be in front of.
As a writer, was it difficult to see your work evolve from the page to the screen? On “Little Miss Sunshine,” the directors allowed the actors to create certain moments on the spot. Was there a similar looseness on the set of “Ruby Sparks”?
An actor’s job is to fill in the blanks. When Paul is coming down the stairs and he steps on the squeaky toy, that was something he came up with that we thought was so great. But at least in this case, Jon and Val were really sticklers for staying on script. They don’t allow a lot of dialogue improvisation. We passed back and forth seventeen or eighteen drafts, and by drafts I mean small changes. They really wanted it to be in ship-shape by the time we went into production. Working together for nine months on this script beforehand helped me think of it as ours and not mine. It was easy for me to step away onset and know that they were going to insist that it was word-perfect, so I didn’t need to worry about that so much. The only thing that’s improvised in the film is the charade scene, I really wanted to keep that loose. And you don’t hire an actor like Steve Coogan unless you allow him to improvise, so I wrote some guidelines around which he could improvise and we allowed him to go from there. I don’t know how much of his improv ended up in the movie, but there’s a little bit of looseness there.
What aspects of LA did you want to highlight that aren’t often seen in film?
There’s a kind of show business LA that you see onscreen. I grew up in LA and I know it as a hometown, so that feeling of a human-scaled city was something I wanted to get to. LA is just a collection of suburbs. I grew up on the west side and those are east side locations, so I was being introduced to those places as we shot there.
Are you planning to continue writing screenplays as well as acting?
“Lucky” sounds like a really pat line, but I’ve been lucky so far. I’ve been able to write alongside the acting in a really organic way—writing during the day and doing a play at night. In the last year, it’s been really hard for me to find time to write. So right now, I’m aware of how much I miss it. I don’t have any interest in writing superseding acting because for me, acting has always been my first love. I’m more aware now of how I’m going to have to budget time for it. I’m such a workaholic. I say, “Yes,” to everything, and Paul’s like, “You need to start saying, ‘No,’ because you need to start having time to be home.” I’ve been home for three months out of the last twelve, and he’s like, “You need to come home in Brooklyn.”
Was there a challenge to keep viewers involved in Calvin’s plight even as he starts to embrace his dark side? I didn’t find it challenging, but I’ve always been more attracted to flawed characters.
Me too. “Is he likable?” is a development line in Hollywood, and for me, the idea of someone being universally likable is a farce. That’s a cipher, not a person. A person can be your best friend, and still can be odious to someone else. I like flawed characters, I like characters that feel human to me, that feel like real people. I like to cite “When Harry Met Sally.” The reason you root for the main characters is not because they’re the prettiest people on the block, it’s because they feel so human. You look at Billy Crystal, and you’re like, “I know that dude,” and that is the kind of character that I respond to the most. Even though [“Ruby Sparks”] is a fantasy, it’s trying to address human relationships, and human frailty is part of that package.
PART III: JONATHAN DAYTON AND VALERIE FARIS
The following conversation was originally published on July 24th, 2012 at HollywoodChicago.com.
It’s been six years since award-winning music video helmers Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris released their feature directorial debut, “Little Miss Sunshine.” It went on to become one of 2006’s most beloved sleeper hits and garnered a busload of accolades, including two Oscars. Yet it took many years for the couple to find the perfect script for their sophomore effort.
They found it in Zoe Kazan’s remarkably inventive debut screenplay, “Ruby Sparks,” which tells the story of a lovesick author, Calvin, whose dream girl suddenly materializes in his apartment. Kazan also happens to be the real-life girlfriend of Paul Dano, who memorably played the brooding, oft-silent teen Dwayne in “Sunshine.” The film stars Dano as Calvin, Kazan as his tailor made love, Ruby Sparks, Chris Messina as Calvin’s bewildered brother, and a talent-packed ensemble including Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas and Steve Coogan. Hollywood Chicago spoke with the directing duo about unrealized projects, cinematic fantasy, audience reactions, the joy of collaboration and the myth of perfection.
I’ll start by saying that “Little Miss Sunshine” was one of the greatest moviegoing experiences of my life. When Greg Kinnear started dancing, the entire theater just exploded.
Valerie Faris (VF): It’s so funny that you say, “When Greg Kinnear started dancing,” because that was his biggest fear when he took that role. He didn’t want to dance onstage, and he tried to convince us that he didn’t need to dance. We kept saying, “It’s going to be okay.”
Jonathan Dayton (JD): “Are you kidding? This is your big, heroic moment.”
VF: “This is when you decide that you’re going to support your daughter instead of pull her off the stage.” And he couldn’t process it. Even on the day [of the shoot], it was hard for him, and when he finally went up there and did that move, I was like, “Yes!” It wasn’t until he saw the first cut of the movie that he went, “Oh, okay, I guess it’s alright.”
“Little Miss Sunshine” was Michael Arndt’s first script, and “Ruby Sparks” is Zoe Kazan’s first screenplay. Are you attracted to directing the work of fresh voices?
JD: You said it exactly, yes.
VF: It’s absolutely true, but it wasn’t actually conscious. It just happened that this film came to us, we loved it, we worked on it for a while like we did with Michael, and we got to a point where we really felt like, “Okay, we all agree that this is the film we want to make.”
JD: In a first script, writers are bringing a lot of their lives to the table. There’s more time for the ideas to gestate. Once a writer becomes successful, it’s like the first album of a band. You have your whole life to write your first album, and for the second album…
VF: You have three months. I also think there’s an authenticity to it. Nobody told them to do it, nobody asked them to do it. It came from something very intuitive and deep. All that they bring to it feels very authentic, and their voice comes through in a way that makes us respond to it. Both scripts are very funny and also have the potential to be emotionally stirring. So that’s what attracts us, and for some reason, first scripts tend to do that more.
Has your comedic background in “Mr. Show” made you open to having actors bring their own ideas to a film during production?
JD: The director’s job is to mine the potential of a concept, whether it’s your initial work with a writer or who you cast or how you work on the set. We don’t do a lot of improv. Because there are two directors, we have to have a pretty distinct plan.
VF: Especially in this case because our writer was going to be on the set. We wanted to have the script behind us in a way. That doesn’t mean that [unscripted] moments arise, and I feel that if you’re doing it right, the whole film should feel improvised. The goal for us is to get the dialogue that’s written to feel lifelike and feel like it’s actually happening in that moment.
JD: When you get a great script, the challenge becomes, “It’s a great read, but what is the film?” We worked a lot with Zoe and the other actors to find the most economical and emotionally potent way to tell the story.
Is there a benefit to having a male and female perspective on this material, particularly because it centers on a male’s idealized perception of a female from a female screenwriter’s perspective?
VF: Because Zoe was writing for a man writing a woman, she was definitely thinking about how men write women. In my work, I don’t think very much about coming from the woman’s perspective, because we work so closely.
JD: But you do and I have to say when we would rehearse these scenes ourselves and act things out, you clearly would bring your perspective as a woman. It’s fundamental to the work you do.
VF: But I don’t think that’s discussed.
JD: It’s just there. We don’t say, “And now, Valerie, as a woman…” You just weigh in, but it can’t be separated from your life and all that you’ve experienced as a woman.
VF: But I think that maybe you do see the male perspective more than I see the—
JD: No, no, no.
VF: A lot of times you’d say, “Men really respond to this.” You’ll voice the male perspective more than I voice the female perspective.
JD: Okay, I get that. In Chris Messina’s moments where he says, “For men everywhere, you can’t let this go to waste,” I could both identify with that as the man that I am, but I could also separate myself and know that Chris was voicing the ultra-male perspective.
Chris Messina displays a wonderful comic sensibility in this film. How did you go about casting him?
VF: We’ve been a fan of Chris just from seeing him pop up in different films here and there. When we auditioned him, we realized that he sold the brotherly bond so well. I really believed that he loved Calvin. He’d support him and care for him and go through this with him. He also has a kind of regular guy quality that was really important to us. Like all of the actors in “Little Miss Sunshine,” he’s one of those actors who can move from drama to comedy very easily. There’s no, “Now I’m being funny and now I’m going to be dramatic.” It’s all one in the same. He can deliver the comedy in a very real fashion.
JD: We considered a lot of comedians for the role but we ultimately found that it’s so important that Harry [Messina’s character] is the guy who represents the audience. When he accepts that Ruby is real, we’re going to accept it. We needed someone who had a gravitas, someone you trusted and Chris was that guy.
VF: Some guys would just be like, “Yeah, this is cool,” from the beginning, but we loved to have Chris just bothered by this [fantasy]. He knows this isn’t how life works, so it’s a bigger task to bring Chris to the point where he starts buying into this premise. There are certain actors who can really do comedy and drama as indistinguishable from each other. They’re always playing the drama in the story…
JD: And they’re playing the truth.
VF: He reminds me a bit of Greg Kinnear because they’re both playing the straightman, and in both films, they’re the engine of the film. Chris drives the story and moves it along in a certain way.
Greg Kinnear’s pursuit for perfection in “Little Miss Sunshine” is similar to Calvin’s goal to create the perfect female companion, and the ultimate lesson they learn is to embrace the imperfections of life. In your own perceptions of life in modern America, do you feel that images of perfection are halting relationships?
VF: Yes, you really said it. There’s a lot that we’re not happy with in life today, especially when you’re raising kids and everything. What’s nice is when you have a film that allows you to express some of your reactions and feelings about the world. I think that this story is very personal to us. Even though we didn’t write it, it’s still our film and it speaks to a lot of the things that we feel about modern life.
JD: That’s one reason it took us six years to make another movie. We simply couldn’t find a project that had the richness that we needed.
VF: Well, we did find projects that had the richness, they just weren’t complete. We’d work on the scripts for other films that we loved equally and never felt like we got them to their full expression.
JD: They may come later.
VF: I really loved those films and fully intended to make them. Some films are hard and some take longer. So often, I hear the story behind films that I love and find out that it took seven or ten years to make them. “Blue Velvet” was something like 10 or 15 years. I just think films do take time. We worked with Zoe for nine months, it’s just part of us becoming the authors of the film. So six years doesn’t seem that long to me in film years.
In both of your films, Nick Urata’s music has a soulful quality that makes the audience more emotionally in tune with the characters. What attracted you to his work?
JD: Again, you got it. It’s really nice to hear you talk very succinctly about these things. We were really attracted to Nick’s ability to give an emotional charge to a piece of music. For us, soundtracks too often feel very generic and he has a gift for writing beautiful melodies that make you feel something…
VF: Without playing completely to what we want the audience to feel. I never feel like the music is manipulative. Nick moved into the edit suites with us and we worked very closely back and forth.
JD: The music was created with the film.
VF: We didn’t bring him in at the end.
JD: We evolved together.
Your music video for “Tonight, Tonight” by The Smashing Pumpkins pays homage to the visionary work of Georges Méliès. Would you ever consider making a film that is more of an overt fantasy?
JD: We’ve had projects like that. We were working on a film with Demetri Martin that depicted a heaven-like world…
VF: It was called, “The Beyond.” The movie itself was called “Will.”
JD: And we had a Ben Stiller movie that took place in the future in a world run by women, so we had to create a whole universe.
VF: So, the short answer is, “yes,” but the challenge for us is to not let that be the focus of the film. For us, it’s always the story, so if the right story needed to be told in that world, then great. But we’re not interested purely in the visuals, we’re always interested in how the story is expressed through the visuals. We’ve gotten a lot of children’s books that people want to adapt and sometimes the themes are interesting, but they usually don’t speak to us. The next thing that we’re doing is a pilot for HBO. Daniel Clowes, who wrote “Ghost World,” wrote a really funny, biting character and it’s a series called “The Landlord.” That will be fun, and we’re trying to figure out what the show’s world will look like. It’s our world, but since it comes from the comic book world, and Daniel’s drawings are so incredible, we’re hoping to draw from his aesthetic.
“Ruby Sparks” doesn’t back away from the darkness in Calvin’s character, and I felt that by not going there, the film wouldn’t have earned its final moments.
VF: Not everyone recognizes that it had to go there. Why do this story unless you’re going to go there?
Was it a challenge to gauge that darkness?
JD: From the moment we read the script, that was both the opportunity that we saw, but also the challenge.
VF: And the hardest thing to see on the page. We didn’t know what it was until we were in the editing room, but that’s what’s fun about it. You think that you can figure it all out [beforehand], but some of it you have to figure out in the process. Editing is also such a huge part of this. On both pictures, we’ve worked really closely with our editor, Pamela Martin. She cut “The Fighter” too. She’s really great, and we spent every day with her for eight months. Everything else happens really quickly, but editing is a slower process.
What has it been like experiencing this film with an audience?
VF: We love it. It’s scary to think that someday everyone will be watching films only on a computer. Watching “Ruby Sparks” with an audience for the first time, we were surprised by how far into the film they were laughing. We thought the laughing would stop at a certain point, like when [Calvin] holds [Ruby’s] face in the kitchen. People laugh at that, and we always thought that was a really chilling scene. It’s funny, but then it turns serious, and the theater eventually becomes silent.
JD: But it’s nice to share that silence too…
VF: To feel that the audience is moving through this journey together.
Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’ third feature, “Battle of the Sexes,” arrives in theaters on September 22nd, 2017. Paul Dano’s directorial debut, “Wildlife,” features a script he co-wrote with Zoe Kazan and is currently in post-production. And if you want to see a fantastic romantic comedy currently in theaters, check out Zoe Kazan in “The Big Sick.”