I was fascinated (in sort of a good way) by "All About Steve", a movie that somehow manages to take elements of "The Cable Guy", "Anchorman" and the documentary "Spellbound" and mix them all into a framework that is part road movie, part romantic comedy and (small) part uplifting drama. If that sounds like an odd mixture, well, you would be right.
The film stars Sandra Bullock as Mary Horowitz, an unmarried crossword puzzle writer who obsessively chats about factoids with anyone who comes in contact with her. One of the funniest scenes in the movie comes during a dramatic moment late in the film, where a little deaf girl signs to Mary, "I don't know what you're saying, but you talk too much."
Mary also wears the same pair of red boots everywhere she goes. Her answer late in the film as to why she's made this fashion choice makes little sense, but somehow still amused me in its delightful weirdness. If anything, the film isn't predictable - I doubt any audience member could have predicted the character's reasoning. Furthermore, maybe I don't have fashion sense: I thought they worked on Sandra Bullock, but the movie deems them horrific and seems fascinated by them - the boots get enough close-ups to practically deserve a supporting actor credit.
When her parents try to fix her up on a date, she doesn't even want to go, but she gives it a try for the sake of her folks. She ends up meeting Steve (Bradley Cooper), a cameraman for a cable news network - and instantly falls for him, as she tells her little Guinea Pig. In the most awkward fashion possible, she tries to jump him in the car (before they even leave) and manages to scare him off with her stream-of-factoid chatter. Also, telling him that "I am going to eat you like a mountain lion" does not exactly help matters.
Yet, as Steve tries to make a dash for it, he insincerely remarks that it would be great if she would could go on the road with him for work. Ooops. Before long, she actually is following Steve across the Southwestern US, meeting up at one stop with a little traveling group who is protesting a child born with a third leg whose parents may possibly keep or get rid of the leg. Mary becomes friends with a couple of people from the "Pro-Leg" group, who do not seem entirely sure why they want the child to keep the leg. Lets take a time out, and can I get a show of hands as to how many people ever expected a romantic comedy to feature a protest over a three-legged child? No one?
Meanwhile, Thomas Hayden Church plays the pompous anchor for the network Steve works for, who meanly strings Mary along cross-country - despite Steve's protests - for every story because he wants to use her knowledge of factoids. In a particularly funny scene, Church's character chats with Mary as she runs alongside their news van while it pulls away. Rather than stopping, Church's character nonchalantly offers her a sip from his Big Gulp as she continues to run and breathlessly chatter away. Steve, hiding in the back and still irritated by her, is momentarily impressed by her rather insane commitment as she runs.
On her quest, Mary is helped out along the way by two people from the protest (DJ Qualls and, from "Eastbound and Down", Katy Mixon), one of whom makes - I am not kidding - famous faces out of apples. Let me say this again, because it needs to be repeated - the character makes famous faces out of apples.
The movie ends up with Mary needing rescue and becoming an icon of non-conformity (and while there is something sweet and a nice message about her realizing that she should just be herself, playing her becoming some sort of alternative icon as a melodramatic, Big Emotional Moment doesn't work all that well.) This leads to a memorable scene late in the movie, where the Qualls character actually scolds Church's character for causing trouble and points to the crowd (many of whom are the protesters from the earlier scene) gathered for Mary as an example of the good that she's done in apparently bringing people together.
The movie mistakenly positions this as a major emotional moment and former "New Guy" Qualls seriously tries to sell it like he's attempting to earn that scene alone a Best Picture nomination. "Unintentionally Funny" has found a new definition, and it is this brilliant scene. Qualls should get an Oscar for unintentional humor - and I'm not kidding. Oh, and did I mention the tornado scene, where Bullock's character gets hit in the face with a cicada?
The rest of the movie worked for me as well as it did because - much like Mary - it really seems to have no idea that it's weird (or, to put it more sensitively, "non-traditional".) In terms of the film's presentation of Mary, the movie wants to present her as someone who is comfortable not fitting into the "normal" standard of adulthood, which is certainly fine. However, her inability to understand how people react to her and her awkwardness in normal social situations is something else. The character feels at times like a sweetened, rom-com version of what Jim Carrey tried to do in the quieter parts of "The Cable Guy" (the two characters even share a lisp and while Carrey's had an obsessive knowledge of pop culture, Bullock's has an obsessive knowledge of everything.) Carrey's character just wanted a friend, while Bullock's just wants a boyfriend, but both characters seem to have difficulty with the necessary social skills.
One may fault Bullock for the decision to star in this film, but geez, she certainly commits to the character 110%. The actress continues to be likable, which goes a long way when the character is a chatterbox who gets told by deaf children that she talks too much.
While Bullock does all she can in the role (and then some) one thought kept going through my mind while watching this film: this would have been a perfect late-'90's role for Drew Barrymore. The other characters are really rather one-dimensional - even the Steve of the title is not really given much depth, as this is purely Bullock's movie.
"All About Steve" is certainly flawed, but I found it strangely riveting. It's a romantic comedy with a protest about three-legged children, a fascination with red boots, frequent discussion of crosswords, a tornado, celebrity apple faces and a chat (in the midst of a twister) about cicadas, among other things. It's a romantic comedy, then it suddenly becomes an uplifting drama. It feels like two films - one about being true to yourself, the other a wacky romantic comedy - were forced together.
Still, by the time that Bullock's character gives the long-awaited explanation (which makes little sense, but is genuinely, magnificently weird) about why she wears her red boots, I was sold on the film. It is not great cinema, but if this movie somehow becomes a cult film down the road, I wouldn't be surprised. Fans of Bullock in the mood for something quirky may want to give the film a try, but I'd rent first.
VIDEO: "All About Steve" is presented in 1.85:1 (1080p/AVC) by 20th Century Fox. The presentation was delightful in nearly all aspects, starting with sharpness and detail. While the picture did have a couple of slightly softer moments, it generally appeared bright, crisp and detailed, with nice depth to the image during most scenes.
Pleasantly, aside from a couple of hints of softness and a few moments of slight noise, the picture looked pristine, with no edge enhancement or wear on the elements. Colors looked bright and pure, such as the red of Mary's boots.
SOUND: The film is presented in DTS-HD 5.1 by 20th Century Fox. As one might expect, the film delivers a "comedy"-style sound mix, with little need for the rear speakers throughout the film (well, with the exception of the tornado sequence.) Audio quality is first-rate, with clear, well-recorded dialogue and dynamic, crisp music.
EXTRAS: Director Phil Traill, writer Kim Barker, and stars Sandra Bullock, Bradley Cooper, Ken Jeong and Thomas Hayden Church offer an audio commentary for the film. The commentary is a great deal of fun, as the group has some terrific laughs joking about the movie and sharing some behind-the-scenes tales. Church and Bullock definitely throw out some terrific one-liners during their scenes and the commentary keeps rolling, with no patches of silence.
A gag reel runs a bit over 5 minutes and also includes commentary. Some good laughs, although the gags include more of the scene than just the gag. We also get an a capella duet on a goof song about the movie from stars Ken Jeong and Bradley Cooper. We also get a similarly goofy spoof "making of", "Hollywood Dish with Mena Micheletti”. The disc also offers a more traditional EPK featurette on the making of the film that offers standard interviews and behind-the-scenes clips.
Finally, we get a solid Fox Movie Channel piece where the director takes questions from film students, 6 deleted scenes and a photo montage. Trailers for other films from the studio are also included, as is a digital copy of the film on a separate disc.
Final Thoughts: "All About Steve" is certainly flawed, but I found it strangely riveting and not what I'd expected. It's a romantic comedy with a protest about three-legged children, a fascination with red boots, frequent discussion of crosswords, a tornado, celebrity apple faces and a chat (in the midst of a twister) about cicadas, among other things. It's a romantic comedy, then it suddenly becomes an uplifting drama. By the time that Bullock's character gives the long-awaited explanation (which makes little sense, but is genuinely, magnificently weird) about why she wears her red boots, I was sold on the film. It is not great cinema, but if this movie somehow becomes a cult film down the road, I wouldn't be surprised. Fans of Bullock in the mood for something quirky may want to give the film a try, but I'd rent first.
The Film C+