All About Steve

Reviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 09/04/09 14:00:00

"Every Smile You Fake, Every Claim You Stake..."
1 stars (Total Crap)

We can bemoan the fact that nine out of every ten romantic comedies are atypical retreads with nary an original bone in their body, but at least we know who their audience is. I’m not sure I really want to know personally the people who turned over $160 million to The Proposal this summer, let alone liked it, but I think a list should be made of anyone who admits to liking Sandra Bullock’s latest film, All About Steve. You can start with any film critic at Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic. Then canvas any movie theater within reach, have an instant poll or just take photos of anyone who has a smile on their face. Because these people need to be documented, if for no other reason than to understand who this movie was made for. Lonely, eccentric women? Clinically-diagnosed psychotics? Fox News and the rest of the irresponsible media? We need to know even though I suspect I have the simple answer that this is a film that speaks to those who believe Every Breath You Take is a love song.

Bullock plays Mary Horowitz, an impossibly delightful crossword expert who creates them for the local paper. Decked out in red boots that she never takes off, Mary lives at home with her parents (Howard Hesseman & Beth Grant) who have set up a blind date for her that she plans to cancel. Until she sees Steve (Bradley Cooper), a guy who looks like he never needs to be set up. Love at first sight is an understatement as Mary changes immediately from a demure skirt to a shorter, sex-me-up one and jumps Steve in the car before he can even turn on the ignition. Before they can really get down to business though, the news cameraman gets a call that they need him for a story and the date ends with Mary in a jacket and bra.

It doesn’t end there for Mary though who gets to work on an “All About Steve” crossword puzzle with such clues as “Steve’s eye color” and “Steve’s lips taste like (blank).” How this puzzle managed to get through the paper’s editors and into print is anyone’s guess, but Mary is quickly fired. With nothing keeping her now, this woman believes it would be a good idea to track Steve down across the country and rekindle the back-of-the-van spark they shared for about two minutes. Meanwhile, Steve has his own workplace issues with his on-camera partner, the egotistical half-assed reporter Hartman Hughes (Thomas Haden Church). As Steve is horrified at the sudden reappearance of Mary, Hartman decides it’s a good idea to mess with him and encourage her to continue her quest at all costs.

If Mary sounds like your garden variety stalker that would be putting it kindly. You are more likely to insult fellow stalkers since their level of persistence and delusion can’t compare to Mary’s. But let’s not be so quick to label and get inside the heads of Mary and her creators, screenwriter Kim “License To Wed” Barker and Miss Bullock. They would be the first to admit that Mary is not normal. But that is supposed to be part of her charm. She’s not our kind of normal, but exists in her world of different that is capable of showing the rest of us how abnormal WE all are. Mary has a wealth of knowledge based around her crossword skills but thanks to her social awkwardness doesn’t know quite how to use it other to correct people’s wrongs and talk their ear off about endless facts. (A bus driver drops her at a rundown truck stop - where Mary is pretty quick to judge herself - just to get her off.) For about the first 6-to-7 minutes of All About Steve I wondered if the film wasn’t going to take the wacky stalker route advertised in the trailers and might find an unexpected route towards sympathizing with a woman who might be a little medically unbalanced. By the eighth minute, it was pretty clear there was no hope for her.

How else do you describe a woman who is horned-up enough to practically rape a guy within ten minutes of meeting him and takes that as an open invitation to follow him on every work assignment he is therefore given? There is no suggestion of sadness from her date being cut short nor any true implication of loneliness projected by director Phil Traill for us to empathize with Mary. Nor is Steve portrayed as some one-and-done jerk. Despite played with the usual comic blandness by The Hangover’s Bradley Cooper, Steve could actually be commended in some circles for recognizing Mary’s insanity up front and not taking the opportunity to reschedule a guaranteed lay. Even as some bizarro test where Steve passes the open door policy of a sure thing, thus proving his worth as a good guy, he is written as nothing more than a wimpering slice of handsome that is bullied throughout like a grade schooler suffering through a horrendous prank.

Here and there, Mary attempts to explain herself through voiceover (quoting NY Times’ puzzler Will Shortz of all people about our desire to fill empty spaces) but through the way she’s portrayed in the film, this is a person that needs to be locked up. Maybe she’s just misunderstood, but there’s an outstanding irony in that portrayal. You may all think you’re walking into some oddball rom-com between mismatched suitors trying to make light of stalkers, but midway through the film turns into a variation of the naughty media theme. Those big, bad reporters with their misinformation turning people’s flaws against them. How dare they? How do you think they would handle the story of an unhinged woman crossing the groupie line against one of their own? Why turn her into a hero, of course!

What, at first, appears to be Barker’s idea of creating goofy stories for Church’s reporter to make insensitive reports about, turns into a statement against all of us putting down Mary’s actions. First stop, a hospital rally involving the case of a child born with a third leg where we’re supposed to side with those wanting to keep the extra appendage (a group that includes the “hooker” from Borat as a woman with a vestigial penis.) Final stop – a group of deaf children fall before our very eyes into an abandoned mine – and faster than you can call Chuck Tatum, the final act of the film consists of another rally to rescue the idiot Mary who, so focused on finding Steve (after surviving a tornado and being told to go home at every sighting), falls in herself. Of all the films I kept thinking of comparing this to, never in a million years did I imagine Billy Wilder's Ace In The Hole would come up.

What evolves into a human interest story with Steve suddenly doing a 180 on her actually becomes one of the greatest hypocrises a supposed feel-good movie has even inflicted on daft moviegoers. If the media is this big bad entity that makes abnormal people like Mary look terrible then why aren’t they complicit in making this off-center nut a saint to unsuspecting viewers? Better yet, why aren’t people magically transformed by her charms equal morons for not knowing all the facts of her situation and her true motivations for falling into that sinkhole? Is this really an actual indictment of media irresponsibility and the dunderheads who believe every word uttered in the news? OF COURSE NOT!!!!!

There have been plenty of movies that have used quirky, nonconformist characters (male and female) for romantic entanglements and even endeared us to their eccentricities (Napoleon Dynamite) or lack of intelligence (The House Bunny). Just this year we had Seth Rogen as a under-medicated security guard who teetered on the edge of unlikability but was written and played with enough intelligence and dramatic respect that we were able to join him on that fence and follow him through towards his Travis Bickle-like tendencies. On the same day that I saw All About Steve, a little film called Good Dick was hitting DVD. One of my favorite films from Sundance ’08, it was about a nice, awkward guy who takes a shine to an introverted video store customer who strictly rents porn and shows up unannounced to her apartment every night until a mutual romance begins. It’s the comprehensive counterpoint to All About Steve which is trying to be the comedic counterpart to Cameron Diaz’s “when you sleep with someone your body makes a promise” character from Vanilla Sky. I wonder if anyone - after she intentionally runs her car off a bridge - would have ever described her as “just a smart girl in red boots,” an explanation that when it finally comes should be the final straw to putting Mary in the padded room. Eventually we may need to come up with a new description for anyone who says they liked All About Steve. And avoid them at all costs.

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