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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

All About Steve (review)

To: Sandy. Re: ‘Steve’

Memo to Sandra Bullock, star and producer of All About Steve: When people complain about how there aren’t enough roles for “older” women in Hollywood, I don’t think they were thinking that this was the solution. Plopping a 45-year-old actress such as yourself into a role clearly intended for, at best, a 23-year-old is a bizarre way to deal with the role shortage.
See, real women want to see some semblance of, you know, real women onscreen. But Steve goes way beyond the terrible plight afflicting Hollywood depictions of women, which typically are content to merely equate female careerism with romantic loneliness and sexual frustration and ownership of cats. But Mary, the Looney Tunes reject you play here, isn’t merely a sad chick with a one-day-a-week job that keeps her in kooky outfits and red leather boots. (Where does a chick find a job like that, anyway?) She’s an overgrown 12-year-old who talks to her hamster — because, as is always the case with these women, they have no women friends, like real women do, and so have only their pets to lament their patheticness to — and she still hasn’t realized that saying things such as “If society wants us to be normal, then normal we will have to be” are not things that 45-year-old women say, especially not to hamsters. Just-out-of-college women say that (see Post Grad). And it’s annoying when they do it, too. But at least it’s more understandable.

Then again, the fact that Mary has somehow managed to live decades of adult life without apparently doing any actual living contributes to the sense that she’s like Rain Man, only with extra sexual aggression. Was that intentional?

I’m sure it was fun, Ms. Bullock, to attack Bradley Cooper (The Hangover, Yes Man) like your Mary gets to do about five minutes into the flick. I mean, I don’t think I could have held off that long: he’s gorgeous. But, see, I’m joking: I wouldn’t really attack him, not literally attack. C’mon: what the fuck is wrong with you? No, seriously. Is this supposed to be cute? Is it supposed to be cute when Cooper’s news-cameraman Steve freaks out and makes up polite but clearly bullshit excuses to get out of your clutches, and so then you stalk him across the country because you don’t understand either how grownups behave or how we talk? What’s with the weird lack of socialization? Should we blame Mary’s parents for that? Was Mary locked in an attic from the time she was a toddler with no human interaction? (Or is this the second Asperger’s romance of the summer, after Adam?) Should we note that there are deeper problems with this family from the fact that Mary’s dad (Howard Hesseman: Martian Child, Teddy Bears’ Picnic) tells her mom (Beth Grant: Extract, Henry Poole Is Here) that if she ever wants to see any grandchildren — which is a stretch for 45-year-old Mary at this point anyway — she’s gonna have to burn those boots? This might be the most squick-inducing moment in the whole damn movie, which is a veritable cesspool of ick: Her father is comfortable saying out loud that his daughter is not, in his eyes, fuckable. Ugh.

And what’s the deal with those red boots, anyway? You know, Sandra, this is an indication of the special level of awfulness that is All About Steve: The characters are so ridiculous that I hate them, but at the same time the movie treats them so unfairly that I feel the need to defend them. (Though not in any way that makes the movie endearing, I hasten to add.) The script, by Kim Barker, keeps making reference to the boots as some sort of nightmare (as with Dad’s disgusting line mentioned above), as if she were walking about in public wearing dirty ragged old bunny slippers or something. And director Phil Traill lingers on the boots as if rubbernecking at a 50-car pileup. But the boots are genuinely cool and funky. Mary’s clearly got a sense of real style, in a way that anyone can see is unique yet not at all an indication of anything other than a willingness to be herself.

I know, I know: Hollywood would never make a movie about someone who was actually, genuinely, for-real weird. Mary is Hollywood-weird in the same way that Janeane Garofalo is Hollywood-ugly.

Ms. Bullock, you’re clearly not stupid. Not even like the way Mary is, who’s obviously brilliant but still an idiot. How could you possibly give an a-okay to such a dumb script, which doesn’t just hate its own protagonist but makes no damn sense at all, in story ways? How can Mary possibly make a living contributing one crossword puzzle per week to a local newspaper? (Having a snotty kid snidely ask her the same question does not dispense with the question.) If her stalkerish “All About Steve” puzzle — the one she submitted to her paper after her one date with Steve, which she clearly doesn’t recognize as disastrous and during which she is inexplicably smitten — is so “unprofessional,” as her editor says, and it is unprofessional, why does her editor publish it?

I know, I know: the unprofessional puzzle gets her fired from this one-day-a-week job, which sets the crosscountry stalking — and hence the plot — in motion. But maybe someone should have noticed that if it takes a pile of complete bullshit to get the story rolling, maybe this is a story that was not aching to be told.

Did anyone on the set notice that Bradley Cooper was looking as annoyed and embarrassed as Steve does on the screen? Or am I just projecting here, feeling protective of the poor guy?

Maybe, Sandy, you could have stuck to the satire side of the movie, all the cable news stuff with Thomas Haden Church’s (Aliens in the Attic, Imagine That) obnoxious field reporter — the one Steve serves as cameraman for — and the total fluffitude of what passes for news these days. It’s not outrageously funny or anything, but Church is a hoot and at least that side of the film tries. And maybe in that version of the movie, you’d have been able to avoid having to dumb yourself down and cute yourself up and pretend you aren’t an adult woman.


MPAA: rated PG-13 for sexual content including innuendos

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine
  • SaintAndy

    Great review, and it really does hit the nail on the head, MaryAnn. When will Hollywood (although it’s not just the American film industry that does this) stop portraying women as stupid, immature, nutty brats? And not only that, but somehow they insist that this is fun, and romantic, and the standard ..and that you should behave like a total looney if you want to find true love ..or something.

    I would like to see a real romance, between average, regular looking people, over 30, dealing with the regular stuff that life throws at them, and pulling through ..or not pulling through ..the important thing here would be for them to love, and to do so in a mature way. So far, the closest I got to this was by watching British telly.

    Anyway, this seems like the worst rom-com they have tried to push down people’s throats in a long time …it’s definitely 100 times worse than The Ugly Truth (and I thought that was impossible).

    And I can’t believe either that Sandra Bullock is 45 but most importantly that she’s still playing the same character she did 20 years ago.

    Oh, and this film is currently at 0% at RottenTomatoes, so …it really must be abysmal.
    Sorry you had to watch, MaryAnn.

  • I am going to defend one point: Sandra Bullock’s age. At 45 with a 34 year old co-star she’s not too old for this pairing. The age difference wouldn’t matter if the gender roles were reversed. In fact if the protagonist were a man he’d be 45 and she would be 24! At least this movie doesn’t get into cougar territory.

    If you look good at any age (and to me, Sandra Bullock looks pretty good!) in Hollywood you should be able to play any role that is gender appropriate. This is the rule for men, isn’t it? This is why we have movies like Crossing Over which feature a 67 year old Harrison Ford as a INS agent (who would be over the age of mandatory retirement), or Book of Eli with a 55 year old Denzel Washington as an action hero and people like Michael Douglas (65) in movies like Solitary Man about his “romantic discretions”.

    So I have to object anyone to saying she is too old to be acting like this. She is only as old as you paint her to be. If you can excuse it for me, then you should excuse her too.

  • Accounting Ninja

    Well, you know, MAJ, bitches be crazy. *twitch* >_o

    I think you should create a “bitches be crazy” tag. We’ve got a pretty good crop of movies for it, right?

  • older woman

    To C. David Dent: I don’t think it was the pairing of a 45-year-old with a 34-year-old that Maryann thought was inappropriate. I think she was referring to the immaturity of Bullock’s character as not being appropriate to a 45-year-old, and not at all being something most middle-aged single women could relate to at all.

    Anyway, this sounds like a movie to be avoided at all costs. The dad’s comments about his daughter is enough to put me off–ewwww.

  • Jurgan

    Well, you know, MAJ, bitches be crazy. *twitch* >_o

    I think you should create a “bitches be crazy” tag. We’ve got a pretty good crop of movies for it, right?

    I think the “Hollywood Hates Women” tag covers roughly the same ground.

  • Brian

    How could you possibly give an a-okay to such a dumb script, which doesn’t just hate its own protagonist but makes no damn sense at all, in story ways?

    Ms. Bullock’s filmography to date goes a long way toward answering that question. Judging good scripts does not seem to be her strong suit.

  • tomservo

    I don’t know if Hollywood hates women. Shouldn’t some of the blame lie w/ the audience? Hollywood is, first and foremost, a business. If people didn’t go to these movies, they’d stop making them. I’m also assuming a majority of these filmgoers are women.

  • I don’t think it was the pairing of a 45-year-old with a 34-year-old that Maryann thought was inappropriate. I think she was referring to the immaturity of Bullock’s character as not being appropriate to a 45-year-old, and not at all being something most middle-aged single women could relate to at all.

    I maintain that – as an actress – she can act as inappropriately as she wants. This is irrespective of the quality or nonsensical nature of the script. Her age isn’t a factor.

    Now if you want to complain that no mature adult woman would act in such a manner, I’ll probably agree (I’ve seen the previews and it just plain looks stupid), but it has nothing to do with her no longer being 25. It would be vapid behavior for a hipster as well.

  • Accounting Ninja

    I think the “Hollywood Hates Women” tag covers roughly the same ground.

    Au contraire! This special category of misogyny is for the psycho, frothing, stalkery ladies of Hollywood. It seems to be evolving into its own “thing”, kwim?
    I blame Fatal Attraction.

  • bracyman

    tomservo, when you’re the producing the overwhelming majority of the product you tend to dictate the quality regardless of consumer preference. Take as example the automotive industry. Despite a rising demand for cars that focused on safety and efficiency, Detroit continued to pump out big, heavy cars until Toyota and Honda managed to get enough of a market share that they had to start competing.

    Same thing with the big Hollywood companies; they maintain a virtual monopoly on film production and distribution. There’s an entrenched belief that Americans only watch this kind of movie, so they only make this kind of movie, and the belief is reinforced because we then watch the only thing available, which is this kind of movie.

  • misterb

    MaryAnn,
    You went a little light on this movie. You’ve been on fire lately, and this movie was such a softball, I thought you’d really hit it out of the park. Good as always, but not as satisfyingly snarky as I’d hoped.

    @bracyman,
    good point – Hollywood studios pay multi-millions to marketing departments whose sole goal is to tell us what we like.

  • Grinebiter

    Hilariously enjoyable review of a film I would never see anyway. I’m not going to address the main issues, which are covered by others, but I would like to ask one question. When you say

    Her father is comfortable saying out loud that his daughter is not, in his eyes, fuckable.

    are you saying that this sort of thing never happens in Real Life? Or is it only icky because it’s her father, as opposed to her mother?

    I once knew a young lady who chose the most disastrous individual, a manboy halfwit, to marry and have a child with. This may not be unconnected with the fact that her mother used to tell her that with that nose, she would never get a man. The nose in question was not even a Cyrano, but merely a Streisand. I didn’t see the problem.

    At least the Mary person could lose the red boots, this girl could not lose the nose that, according to this real-life, non-Hollywood mother, made her unfuckable. (It should be added that this was the UK in the days before widespread cosmetic surgery.)

  • tomservo

    @bracyman, it’s easier to think the general public are mindless zombies who march into the multiplex at Hollywoods bidding than to believe these movies provide some form of wish fullfilment to people (ie. women) who don’t share the feminist, progressive, non-fly over states ideals that is demanded by a lot of the commenters on this site.

  • MaryAnn

    are you saying that this sort of thing never happens in Real Life? Or is it only icky because it’s her father, as opposed to her mother?

    I don’t understand this kind of comment. All sorts of things happen all the time, and many things that are extremely unlikely happen once in a while, too. That doesn’t mean they always work within the context and within the tone of a given movie.

    If anything that is done or said in a movie can be justified because “that does sometimes happen, you know,” then there’s absolutely no point in talking about the coherence or logic of movies at all.

    But that’s NOT a defense.

  • MaryAnn

    I am going to defend one point: Sandra Bullock’s age. At 45 with a 34 year old co-star she’s not too old for this pairing. The age difference wouldn’t matter if the gender roles were reversed. In fact if the protagonist were a man he’d be 45 and she would be 24! At least this movie doesn’t get into cougar territory.

    Where did I say the problem with this movie had anything to do with the age difference between the male and female leads?

    Nowhere. Because it’s not an issue. Not at all.

    The problem isn’t a 45-year-old woman with a 34-year-old man — it’s a 45-year-old woman who doesn’t act like the adult she’s supposed to be. If anything, Mary is too young for the Bradley Cooper character, because she’s still a child, and he appears to be an adult.

    And it’s not that 45-year-old women can’t have fun, or be weird and wacky, or wear red boots, or look awesome in a miniskirt. That’s not what makes Mary a child. What makes her a child is that she does not appear to have the kind of life that independent 45-year-old women have: work, friends, a sense of her self and what she wants out of life, even if she hasn’t yet achieved that. There is no sense that Mary has any history or experience with anything at all. She’s like a newly hatched chick.

    I’d bet good money that this script WAS written with a female protagonist in her early 20s, and when Bullock wanted to play the lead, they shoehorned in that ridiculous notion that Mary was staying with her parents because her apartment was being fumigated. Because there is no evidence at all for Mary having her own life.

    If the gender roles were reversed and a 45-year-old actor was playing a role apparently written for a 23-year-old, it would be just as bizarre.

    So many aspects of our culture work to infantilze women, and I’m fucking sick of it.

  • tomservo

    But why does it seem like women consume these products you find so reprehensible? Don’t they see the same things you do? Or, are they looking for distractions in an otherwise stressful life.

  • Grinebiter

    That doesn’t mean they always work within the context and within the tone of a movie.

    OK, now I see what you mean. I honestly didn’t the first time, that’s all.

  • MaryAnn

    But why does it seem like women consume these products you find so reprehensible? Don’t they see the same things you do? Or, are they looking for distractions in an otherwise stressful life.

    I have no idea, tomservo. I do know that I find no distraction or entertainment in shit, even though my life is pretty stressful, too.

  • Grinebiter

    I have no idea, tomservo. I do know that I find no distraction or entertainment in shit, even though my life is pretty stressful, too.

    I can echo that as a male. I too, find no distraction or entertainment in shit, although there are shit-for-men products too. Are there not?

    I spend most of the time working, or hiking, or writing, or studying, but there are some hours over in the day when I just need to relax, and well, be distracted. Then I generally play the more intelligent computer games (e.g. EU III), make paper models while listening to BBC World, and read SF/F. However stressed I might get, I wouldn’t contemplate boxing, game shows, wrestling, reality TV, romcoms or macho movies. When I am too tired to read SF in the comfy chair, that means it’s bedtime. :-)

  • tomservo

    I find amusement in shit. Troll 2 and The Room are priceless gems. @Grinebiter,I hope you’re joking.

  • Grinebiter

    @Tomservo: By no means. I guess we’ll just have to live with being different……

  • JoshB

    I find amusement in shit. Troll 2

    Nilbog!

  • tomservo

    Please try our milk!

  • Ide Cyan

    Saw it this evening. I’m not saying it’s a masterpiece, but it’s definitely suffering unfairly from being reviewed in the lens of the genre of romantic comedies. I know it’s being marketed as a romantic comedy, but it’s not one: it’s a farce, which should become obvious when the romance angle is thoroughly abandonned, but for the fact that there are also romantic comedies around that apparently treat their characters as if they were in a farce. Mary’s childishness and automatic behaviour are horrible characterisation if they define a romantic lead, but they make perfect sense — as does the crescendo of bizarre circumstances/news items that form the backdrop of her adventures — for a lead character in a farce. Do women even get to play those roles usually? I say Bravo! Sandra Bullock for getting it. Seriously.

  • But apart from the tabloid news parodies and Thomas Haden Church’s scenes–which get a lot more humor from Mr. Church than the script deserves–this isn’t all that funny a movie.

    I guess the movie started to lose me that it suggested that Mary Magdalene Horowitz* was seriously abnormal just because she likes creating crossword puzzles and wearing red boots.** Excuse me? Liking crossword puzzles is weird? Wearing bright red boots in an era in which even shy suburban women sometimes go in for tattoos and not so shy women sometimes go in for body piercing is abnormal? Is the screenwriter serious?

    Then there’s the constant attempt to get humor out of stuff that isn’t all that funny. (SPOILER: Thus, when it’s several deaf kid fall in a hole, it’s treated like the stuff of high hilarity.)

    And the attempt to parody pro-life and pro-choice demonstrations without actually parodying such demonstrations? Yet another example of the Swing Vote/American Dreamz approach to political satire.

    The sad part is that the movie hits enough of MaryAnn’s favorite themes–be yourself, diversity is a good thing, conformity is bad–that it could have earned a green light easy had the filmmakers gotten their act together.

    But they didn’t.

    So it didn’t.

    And let’s face it. Even if Sandra Bullock’s character had been played by, say, Brittany Murphy or Anna Faris, it still would have been a bad movie. Though I was pleasantly surprised to see that Kristin Chernoweth of Pushing Daisies fame wasn’t roped into playing the type of cute rural character Chernoweth usually plays in the movies.

    If you really want to see a female stalker movie that’s genuinely funny, you’re probably better off renting Bringing Up Baby or What’s Up, Doc?

    But not this one.

    * Nice name, btw. I just wish it belonged to a more interesting character.
    ** For what it’s worth, I thought the boots were cute.

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