All About Steve

Lesley Smith

All About Steve achieves only one success, in its illustration of the plight of the talented comedienne in Hollywood today.

All About Steve

Director: Phil Trail
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Bradley Cooper, Thomas Haden Church, Ken Jeong, DJ Qualls, Keith David
Rated: PG-13
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Year: 2009
US date: 2009-09-04 (General release)
UK date: 2009-01-15 (General release)

Early in All About Steve, workaholic cruciverbalist Mary Horowitz (Sandra Bullock) succinctly sums up the fate of an unmarried woman in her 40s: she's the reluctant object of set-up dates with men whose mothers fear they are gay. On the one night that Mary does not cancel the date her parents and their friends have concocted, she falls ecstatically in love with Steve, a cable news camera operator. When he heads off to work, zigzagging across the United States in pursuit of news, she follows, in pursuit of Steve. The result a series of dreadful comic gags, acting from the school of the living dead, and an atavistic vision of who and what a woman should be.

Mary suffers every humiliation that can befall a clever woman unlucky enough to fall in love, while Steve (the perpetually puckish Bradley Cooper) and reporter Hartman (Thomas Haden Church), stagger from disaster to disaster with ego and amour propre intact. In fact, they flourish. The first, fleeting encounter between Mary and Steve sets the movie on its misogynistic way. While this scene briskly condemns a woman set up on a date by her parents as a social misfit, it glorifies her male counterpart, also sent on the date by his mother, as a high-functioning media type so hot that that he literally robs Mary of speech, although conveniently not of lust, which leads to some fantasy sex in the back of a 4x4. This counterpointing of the sexes drives what little plot director Phil Trail and writer Kim Barker (who also penned License to Wed, another failed comedy that fetishized love) throw on screen.

The movie bristles with the playground bully’s hostility to intelligence. Mary’s dazzling vocabulary and arcane knowledge of the world trigger repeated mockery and cruelty. When Mary’s observation deliver a network scoop to Steve, or she turns her abstract knowledge of mechanics into the successful rescue of a lost child (and the clueless Hartman), both men quite naturally assume the credit, and Mary passively lets them. Ninety-three minutes of such drivel makes it hard to remember that outside the cinema, it really is 2009.

That's not to say the movie is completely one-note. It offers a half-hearted satire of the spoilt star reporter after an anchor's desk and the voracious vapidity of 24-hour news. Haden Church manages to change expression a couple of times when Hartman is abused for his tan and lack of talent -- points delivered as if Broadcast News had never happened. Cooper almost manages to quell his trademark impish smile to deliver Steve's regrets about his treatment of Mary when it looks as if she might actually die. And wholly at odds with the trajectory of the movie is the bizarrely politically correct, "It's okay to be different" ending, whose sincerity even gullible five-year-olds might suspect.

By its end, All About Steve achieves only one success, in its illustration of the plight of the talented comedienne in Hollywood today. It may make economic sense for actors to pick up scripts that lock women into social structures so rigid that love and heterosexual partnership, regardless of object, are worth any sacrifice.

But the result is a string of movies in which beautiful, bright women abnegate themselves to juvenile, misanthropic men. Katherine Heigl’s Alison, for example, in Judd Aptow’s Knocked Up, is wholly capable of economic survival as a single mother, yet passively moves in with the pathologically immature Ben (Seth Rogen). In Smart People, Sarah Jessica Parker’s Janet inexplicably succumbs, after two rational break-ups, to the gloomy, self-centered Lawrence (Dennis Quaid), whose potential as fulfilling life partner seems permanently set at nil. And then there’s Mary (in both here Bullock and Diaz incarnations). At least in the 1930s, Carole Lombard and Katharine Hepburn gave as good as they got before choosing to marry (and discipline) the poor chaps who had stumbled unwarily into their lives.






'We're Not Here to Entertain' Is Not Here to Break the Cycle of Punk's Failures

Even as it irritates me, Kevin Mattson's We're Not Here to Entertain is worth reading because it has so much direct relevance to American punks operating today.


Uncensored 'Native Son' (1951) Is True to Richard Wright's Work

Compared to the two film versions of Native Son in more recent times, the 1951 version more acutely captures the race-driven existential dread at the heart of Richard Wright's masterwork.


3 Pairs of Boots Celebrate Wandering on "Everywhere I Go" (premiere)

3 Pairs of Boots are releasing Long Rider in January 2021. The record demonstrates the pair's unmistakable chemistry and honing of their Americana-driven sound, as evidenced by the single, "Everywhere I Go".


'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.


Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".


PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.


Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.


Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.


Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.


Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.


A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.