All About Steve
Directed by Phil Traill. Starring Sandra Bullock, Thomas Haden Church, Bradley Cooper, Ken Jeong, D.J. Qualls, Keith David, Katy Mixon, Howard Hesseman. (2009, PG-13, 98 min.)
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Sept. 11, 2009
Whatever the faults of All About Steve – and they are legion – this indisputably awful comedy bears a curious badge of honor: It commits completely to a character that herself is a prime candidate for commitment to the cuckoo bin. But wait, there's more: According to the upside-down logic of All About Steve, where one plus one equals three and yellow and blue make magenta, said character's pathological behavior is really just a rallying cry for anti-conformity. 'Cause, you know, why be normal when you can be a stalker? By any reasonable standard, there is something about Mary Magdalena Horowitz (Bullock) that is not quite right – and frequently that is very, very wrong. A crossword-puzzle constructor living with her parents in Sacramento, Calif., Mary has an encyclopedic brain and extreme difficulty in negotiating social situations – both potential signposts of a legitimate medical condition, but certainly not one All About Steve wants to explore; instead, the filmmakers insist on putting Mary at a cuddly threat level – say, kooky – and keeping her there, with her hamster named Carol and her shiny red boots. But when she meets Steve (Cooper), a news cameraman, and decides in the blink of an eye that he's the one for her, Mary's behavior grows increasingly erratic. She mounts Steve within minutes of meeting him, devotes an entire crossword puzzle in the Sacramento daily to clues all about him (hence the title), and then follows him and his news team around the country as they chronicle a really bad weekend in America – a hurricane in Galveston, a collapsed mine shaft in Oklahoma, a baby born with three legs in Colorado. In these highways-and-byways vignettes, All About Steve aims for the sort of carnival-like picaresques found in early-Aughties comedies Road Trip and Bubble Boy, but lacks, er, the sophistication of both. And in her characterization of Mary, Bullock seems to be taking a page – or ripping it off wholesale – from Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky, about another loud dresser with an almost perversely sunny outlook on life. But Leigh’s protagonist didn't feel the need to question whether or not she was normal, or what constitutes normal, or what's so great about normal anyway. Mary does, again and again, and in the process comes off sounding like a sullen teen trapped in a 45-year-old's body, which is itself trapped in a hoochie-mama miniskirt. Kooky? Hardly. Cringing? Most assuredly.