If there was ever anyone built to tolerate the romantic “comedy” All About Steve, it was me (EW critic Lisa Schwarzbaum also saw it — and gave it a D-). I am, after all, the person who ordered Renée Zellweger’s New in Town off pay-per-view having full knowledge of the reviews. I’m also someone who once seriously considered roadtripping back to Niagara Falls to track down the nice, handsome tour guide I’d had at a winery. But even I can’t get behind this Sandra Bullock flick. (And thank god, have you seen what Best Week Ever did to the one movie critic who enjoyed it?)
So Bullock plays Mary, the crossword constructor for The Sacramento Herald. She works, she wears red boots, she thinks crosswords are the most fun you can have without passing out. (Literally, she says that.) She also lives with her parents, who set her up on a blind date with their friends’ son, news cameraman Steve (Bradley Cooper). Mary attacks him immediately, and Steve is all for it until he realizes that she will not stop talking and that he will have to listen to lines like, “Now, I’m going to eat you like a mountain lion.” He fakes a phone call, tells her there’s breaking news, and that he must hit the road. To be nice, he adds that he wishes she could come along, because he knows that she can’t — she has a job. That is, until she does an entire crossword puzzle titled All About Steve (the color of Steve’s eyes, what Steve smells like, etc.) and no one at the paper manages to catch it before it goes to press. She’s fired, but after an almost funny tub scene in which she sinks lower and lower in the water, she realizes it’s a sign — she’s now free to be with Steve! To the bus station we go!
To be fair, the movie tries to make several worthwhile points: People who are happy with themselves shouldn’t change who they are just because everyone else wishes they were “normal”; there are friends in the world for everyone (Mary makes two along the way — nice to see you, DJ Qualls); and men really shouldn’t say things they don’t mean just to be nice (it makes it harder for women to get over you). But as Lisa Schwarzbaum points out in her review, “we’re not supposed to think of Mary as mentally ill, psychologically unbalanced, or any of those painful things, just full of gumption and sunny determination” — and that’s a problem when Mary doesn’t bother trying to get a hold of Steve’s cell number through his parents like a normal person who can’t read kiss-off signs would do. Instead, she’ll just follow the news to track him, his on-air reporter (Sideways‘ Thomas Haden Church) and his field producer (The Hangover‘s Ken Jeong) from state-to-state: At a hostage situation at a ghost town attraction, a hospital where a mother and father are fighting over whether to amputate baby Peggy’s third leg (that’s where she hooks up with her pro-leg pals, also not unbalanced), through a tornado, and finally, at a park where a group of deaf children have fallen through the ground to the bottom of an abandoned mine.
You probably saw that Mary falls into the hole in the trailer. I assumed that would be a funny scene not, like, the last third of the movie. Perhaps Mary in the mine is supposed to be a metaphor for someone hitting rock bottom. That’s where Bullock has her emotional breakdown and we find out why she knows all the seemingly useless information she incessantly spouts (she read a lot as a child since she didn’t have friends) and why she wears those godawful red boots (they make her toes feel like 10 friends on a camping trip!). Just when you think she’s about to give up, the little deaf girl who’d somehow been left behind in the mine rescue attempt makes a hand sign that gives Mary an idea for how she can get them out. Of course, by this time, Steve has realized that even if Mary is different, she’s an intelligent, goodhearted woman who doesn’t deserve to be in danger, and Church’s character is ready to come to terms with what an ass he is. He’s the one who kept egging Mary on to follow Steve, who he assured her was just telling her to leave because he was afraid of getting his heart broken, so he could use her endless trivia on the air. He throws himself into the mine to rescue Mary and the child and, well, you don’t even care do you? That makes it all the more surprising that a few people in the theater actually applauded as the trio emerged from the mine while Train’s “Drops of Jupiter” played.
At one point during the movie, I thought the only good thing about this film is that I wasn’t sure how it would end. Clearly, Steve and Mary are not meant to be, and what’s a romantic comedy without a happy ending? But of course there was only one way it could go: Steve tells Mary never to change, she says she’s Jewish-Catholic so she’s set in her ways, and she runs to her two new friends and is hoisted on the shoulders of all the (not unbalanced) strangers who’d come out to show their support for her. As the credits rolled, I wasn’t thinking about Mary; I was thinking about whether or not I should feel guilty for thinking that people who gather like that at mines or outside hospitals and hold up signs, etc. are a bit… off. I guess we all deal with things differently. Some of us can show support from in front of our TVs, while others feel the need to be there in person. It’s a nice idea — don’t change to make people your friend, find new people — but if it’s going to be the concept for a movie, you need a tighter, funnier script and to remember that quirk isn’t mainstream, so your lead actress shouldn’t be either.
If you saw All About Steve, what did you think? Is the critical beating it’s receiving warranted?