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All About Steve

Director: Phil Traill
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Thomas Hayden Church, Bradley Cooper

(Radar Pictures; US DVD: 4 Sep 2009)

Review [4.Sep.2009]

This movie is actually not all about Steve. It’s all about Mary. Mary Horowitz, the crossword creator (cruxiverbalist) for the Sacramento Herald. Mary Horowitz, wearer of ridiculous red boots, lives with her parents and is a bit too bright to fit into the rest of the world.


The title is a play on the 1950 film All About Eve, starring Bette Davis and Anne Baxter, where Baxter’s character gloms onto Davis’ character, an aging Broadway star just as Mary pursues Steve. That film itself was based on The Wisdom of Eve by Mary Orr, which was itself based on a woman who worked as a secretary for actress Elisabeth Berger.


Sometimes, when people complain about Hollywood endlessly mining that which has already been done, I can see what they’re saying. Sometimes I don’t mind, like when Last Man Standing re-makes Yojimbo which was itself was a re-make/adaptation of Red Harvest. But this time, the result is somewhat needless, if enjoyable enough


Sandra Bullock stars as Mary Horowitz opposite Bradley Cooper as Steve Mueller, the titular Steve. This film was advertised in a manner to suggest that it played into the genre of Romantic Comedy, when the execution is much more of a road trip journey of self-discovery. Mary Horowitz starts out as a perfectly content crossword puzzle writer who is thrown into self-doubt when her lack of a love life and living situation is brought up by a bunch of school children during a Career Day. This doubt leads her to embrace a blind date set up by her parents.


Actually, ‘embrace’ isn’t strong enough a word.  Upon seeing the studly Steve, she runs back upstairs and dolls up to prepare for seduction, Mary Horowitz-style. 


After an awkward liaison (which involved Mary throwing herself at Steve and a roll in the back of his truck) interrupted by a call to work for cameraman Steve, Mary writes a completely un-doable crossword puzzle titled “All About Steve”, based on her date. This leads to trouble at work and frees her to pursue her would-be-sweetheart across the country as Steve and his fellow newsmen Hartman Hughes (Thomas Hayden Church) and Angus Tran (Ken Jeong) chase such stories as a hostage situation/shootout at a cowboy theme park, a parental argument over amputating a newborn’s third arm, a tornado, and ultimately a group of deaf children trapped in a sinkhole. Yes, it’s all as ridiculous and odd as it seems.


But rather than hinging on the relationship between Mary and Steve, the film shows Mary as she befriends people everywhere she goes. Her positive attitude and extensive knowledge of trivia mark her as undeniably strange, but the charming and dear kind of strange rather than the kind that makes you want to back away slowly and then run. 


Well, mostly the charming kind. To Steve, it’s more the kind that makes him want to run. Steve has no particular interest in Mary, and she sadly fails to get the clue, instead seeing signs and clues everywhere that tell her she should follow Steve. Mary’s worldview is tied up in the structure and life of crosswords, where words have great power and meaning and life is a series of clues that lets you make everything fit together. Hers is a logical knowable universe, made more hilarious by the fact that her quest for Steve leads her through some of the weirder and most random parts of life and the country.
 
The film’s secondary thread is the news crew’s quest for the scoop, pursuing one ridiculous 24-news-cycle-fueling story after another. Hughes is constantly searching for the story that will land him an anchor job, a quest that has Steve and Angus just on this edge of getting fired. It shows the news crews angling for the best spot and working through the tropic rhetoric of endless reporting, but also the impromptu communities/audience and activism that spring up around these stories, such as the pro-leggers and anti-leggers, people on both sides of a family drama about Baby Peggy, born with three legs.


In the final act, Mary gets herself into trouble in a sinkhole, but becomes a hero when she rescues herself and a lost girl that no one knew was still in the sinkhole. In the end, Mary realizes her desire for Steve was bound up in her desire for normalcy and decides to instead be happy being herself with the friends she made along the way, rather than trying to fit into the world on the world’s terms.


Mary’s revelation at the end of the film states, “In the journey of life, just find someone as normal as you.” Mary accepts her weirdness and finds happiness.


This film was not what its advertising led me to expect it would be, and as far as films go, its accomplishments are mild. It’s a feel-good story about being a bit off-center, and succeeds in that regard, but is probably too weird for most.  If you enjoy Bullock in a comedic mode or enjoy the cheesiness of Thomas Hayden Church, than give it a try, but otherwise, it’s a strange film that while not instantly forgettable, is not terribly noteworthy for its merit.

Rating:

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