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Monday, September 07, 2009

All About Steve

I may be breaking up with Sandra Bullock soon. I’m not sure yet. I’ve never had an unrequited girl-crush before. Well, maybe there was a brief swoon for Yvonne Craig in her Batgirl suit back in the prehistoric 1960s, but that was so long ago it doesn’t really count. I was barely pubescent and the truth is I didn’t love her I just wanted the suit. It had built in boobs that were perfectly formed torpedoes with an equally perfect sunshine yellow bat symbol placed strategically between them. What eleven year old girl didn’t want to wear that sparkly purple skin-tight spandex leotard, cape, and boots along with the mask and red wig to complete the disguise? The only thing wrong with the whole idea was that “Bat-GIRL” was played by a 30 year old actress and even in those not-so-consciousness-raised times I knew ‘something in the milk wasn’t clean’ to refer to a thirty year old woman a “girl”, “Bat” or otherwise. This just gave me even more legitimate reason (I thought) as to why she should send her costume to me as I was closer to the right age to be fighting crime in the garish get-up than she was. At thirty, she was practically ready for a nursing home, or so I figured from the comfort of what seemed an eternal twenty-one years away. So I wrote to her directly and told her so, and six weeks later she sent me back a 4 x 6 color postcard with her picture in full Bat-drag on one side and on the other she scrawled “Thanks for all your support, Yvonne Craig”. My support? Is that what she called it? That cow hadn’t even read my letter. And to think I worshipped her. She was leading me down the flannel path to the Isle of Lesbos and a life of pool tables, cheap beer, bowling shirts, and buzz cuts. I swore it would never happen again, and it hasn’t yet, though if anyone has come close to making me consider changing teams it would be my beloved Sandra Bullock.

I don’t lust after Sandra in a sexual frenzy the way a certified Sappho would be expected to do. I just find myself always drawn to her movies because her performances always ring true for me. She almost always makes terrific emotional choices in scenes, whether comedic or dramatic, and so I enter a Bullock movie with confidence that whatever it might be it will be enjoyable. Or so I thought.

This last week I saw All About Steve, Bullock’s second film of the season (after the gloriously funny The Proposal), and by the time it was over I didn’t really know all that much more about Steve (Bradley Cooper; The Hangover) than I did at the beginning of the picture, but I also didn’t really care to. Worse yet, I knew more than enough about Bullock’s Mary Horowitz, which is to say that she has to be the most annoying character I’ve seen on-screen this year as a protagonist. She reminded me of a wretched melding of Arnold Horschack from tv’s “Welcome Back Kotter”, Janice Litman of “Friends”, and with a smattering of Jan from “The Brady Bunch” thrown in just to add to the crazy. What Mary doesn’t have is a smidge of the warm cuddlies to make her even remotely endearing as Sandra has been in her other films. Mary is just grating. Bullock’s shtick as someone who is an outsider and struggling with social ineptness has been endearing in other films (Miss Congeniality; While You Were Sleeping) but here it's just plain disturbing. Her character is extremely intelligent but totally clueless when it comes to developing or maintaining personal relationships, and her obsession with her job as a cruciverbalist (crossword puzzle creator) has turned her into a non-stop motor-mouth who prattles on about useless facts and information without provocation or the ability to stop.

Mary lives at home with her equally odd parents, played by Howard Hesseman (Halloween II) and Beth Grant (Extract), who seem to have quit decorating in the 1970s and apparently are still living there as well. It’s because of their fixing up their daughter on a blind date with the son of friends of theirs that Mary first meets with Steve, and their five minute date turns into something more akin to date rape during which time Mary practically devours the tv news cameraman before they’ve even left the curb in front of her parents’ home. There’s definitely something about this Mary alright!

After that, Steve thinks Mary is just a bad memory he can share with the guys on his news crew, but for Mary he has already become an obsession, and the next hour and a half is taken up with Mary’s adventures while stalking Steve as he crosses back and forth across the country on his job covering the national news. Of course, since Mary has no money, her trips are convoluted and put her in touch with a colorful and eccentric group of people along the way, many of whom totally understand and support her cause without questioning the fact she and Steve have barely met.

An absolutely absurd crisis occurs that makes the hurricane, tornado, and birth defect stories Steve has previously been covering seem tame by comparison, and when the “dramatic” reveal happened I laughed so hard my friends had to forcefully try to quiet me as other audience members turned to see why I was struck with such a bad case of the giggles. Longtime readers who see the movie (and you should just for this part) will totally understand immediately what I am talking about. It is as precious as watching the Von Trapp family struck down by lightening (but that’s not it). This time Mary accidently gets involved in the news drama herself and before it is over Steve goes from covering the story to being a part of it as the other reporters on the scene recognize him as “the boyfriend.”

So the comedy takes a sneaky turn and suddenly becomes a full-on message movie. We get bombarded with a clear admonition not to believe everything we hear in the media or read in the tabloids. The discrepancies and outright lies told by the reporters as they cover the story grow more outrageous as time ticks by, while at the same time the growing crowd of supporters for Mary provide a tableau of those the media usually tries not to cover ~ the unattractive, the overweight, the old, the eccentric, the “everyday” people, in other words, people who are less than perfect… people like Mary. Perennial movie outcast DJ Qualls (Road Trip: Beer Pong) plays Howard, a guy who makes a living carving celebrity faces out of apples and then traverses the country selling them out of the back of his 1976 Ford Geo. Who better to then step up as the skinny-mini spokesman and point out just how wonderful Mary is just the way she is with the subtlety of a guy whacking everybody in the audience on the head with a frozen salmon or something equally as distracting because ~dammit! ~ Mary is okay, even if she is the kind of gal you’d be happy to put a kink in her respirator’s air hose any other day of the week if this was real life and you have had to put up with her incessant chatter and insipid insertion of factoids into every sentence you attempt to speak for years and you can’t stand it anymore! Grrr.
Other than Mary and Steve, though, the supporting cast is actually fairly interesting in what little we get to enjoy of them. Network news correspondent Hartman Hughes (Thomas Haden Church; Spiderman 3) deserves more time than he gets as we watch him evolve from self-aggrandizing idiot to actual, three dimensional (but still self-aggrandizing) human being. His producer, Angus (Ken Jeong; also from The Hangover) provides spots of inspired comic relief without much dialogue, mostly in great reaction shots he makes to the lines of Cooper and Church in their never-ending bickering along the road.

The fact that All About Steve was finished more than two years ago and sat in the studio’s vault without a release date until now pretty much says everything you need to know about the movie. It is awkward to watch because you can’t decide who you are supposed to root for. Steve is a misogynistic jerk who won’t give Mary a minute of his time while Mary could easily be diagnosed with an array of disorders, from Ausberger’s Syndrome to obsessive compulsive disorder to who-knows-what. And that is being kind. It’s better than just saying a minute with her is like listening to someone drag their fingernails down a chalkboard for an hour or two. Yes, she’s just that much fun.

I’m sorry, Sandra, but I’m not deserting you yet. Everybody deserves another chance. Mike Myers had The Love Guru, and I’m giving you All About Steve. I’m willing to forgive all indiscretions of the former millennium, so I’ll never throw Speed 2: Cruise Control in your face ever again if you promise never to mention that misfire of a weekend I spent with “the Coreys” back in the day. So, I’m going to look forward to November’s The Blind Side and we’ll see where we go from there. But in the meantime, I’m not getting a U-Haul, and I’m not buying any flannel shirts yet. I’m sure you and Jesse are both relieved. I know my perfect husband is. M’kay.

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