After a few years out of the public eye, Sandra Bullock returned to the spotlight with two romantic comedies last year: The Proposal and All About Steve. While I find it amusing that she wound up opposite one leading man who landed the role of Green Lantern (Proposal's Ryan Reynolds) and one who was rumored for it (Steve's Bradley Cooper), "Sandra Bullock romantic comedy" isn't a combination of words likely to inspire a ticket purchase from yours truly, so I happily skipped both films. Still, every once in a while it's important to step outside your comfort zone, to challenge your preconceptions, even if only so that your preconceptions can be strengthened by personal experience. So I watched All About Steve. For science. In keeping with federally mandated quirkiness quotas when it comes to female rom-com leads, Sandra Bullock plays Mary Horowitz, crossword-puzzle editor. We know Mary is quirky because, well, she's a crossword puzzle editor and she's living with her parents while her apartment is fumigated and she doesn't seem to have any social skills. Also, she wears a pair of bright red boots. Just look at those things! No normal stick-in-the-mud square would wear boots that red!
Unsurprisingly, Mary's rampant quirkiness has hindered her love life, so her parents, admirably played by Howard Hesseman and Beth Grant without once checking their watches, set her up on a blind date with news cameraman Steve (Bradley Cooper). The two hit it off, largely because Mary tackles him in his car and begins stripping his clothes off, but soon that initial spark is overcome by Mary's obsessive nature. She freaks Steve out and he bails. Mary, of course, doesn't get the hint: she's soon fired from her job at the paper after composing a puzzle where all the answers involve Steve. Mary, being a quirky and unique free spirit, and not at all a personality in dire need of medication,
begins stalking Steve sets out on a cross-country road trip to convince Steve they're a perfect match. After all, she's not one to let a little obstacle like Steve's complete lack of interest -- or even his increasing terror at the sight of her -- stand in the way of true love. She's way too quirky for that.
If I've belabored the word "quirky" during this review, it's only because the filmmakers of All About Steve did it first. The script by Kim Barker (License to Wed) works frantically, even desperately, to establish how fun and crazy and -- here's that word again -- quirky Mary is. It's the filmic equivalent of the overenthusiastic relative trying a little too hard to talk up the single guy or girl they're convinced you would "really hit it off with." Given the subject matter, that's thematically apt, but for all the effort spent convincing us just how unique Mary is, none of it feels organic. The film's obsession with Mary's red boots is telling. Rather than making the effort to craft Mary into a believable person, it's all shortcuts and kitsch. Mary is a haphazardly assembled collection of wacky character traits, and never once feels like a real person. And, quite frankly, if she were a real person, she's a real person you would go out of your way to avoid. Like her red boots, she stands out, but that doesn't mean you want to be seen in public with either of them.
Even though it doesn't work particularly well, All About Steve does at least earn few points for bending (but not breaking) the standard rom-com structure. Most films in this genre are so predictable that you can outline every story beat before the opening credits are over. While Steve is still about one person falling for another and attempting to surmount the obstacles that keep them apart, the movie actually proves to be more about appreciating individuality, being true to who you are, and realizing that you don't actually need another person in your life to make you whole. It even layers in a healthy dose of commentary about the way the modern news media operates. Those are noble goals, and certainly a welcome step outside the usual rom-com template. Unfortunately, the observations is has about the subjects are shallow and obvious, and the entire enterprise is undermined by a protagonist that is grating, selfish, and immature.
If there's a saving grace, it's the presence of Thomas Haden Church as news anchor Hartman Hughes. Church takes a two-dimensional role and infuses it with far more charisma and charm than we have any right to expect from this movie. He almost seems to have been dropped in from another movie, and the sheer glee he takes in constantly undermining Steve's attempts to avoid his psychotic would-be paramour account for the movie's few truly funny moments. Cooper does a serviceable job as the stalked, but he's more a prop than a character. Ken Jeong is thoroughly wasted as the third leg of the news-team trifecta, shoehorned into a milquetoast role that just doesn't suit him at all.
All About Steve is as forgettable a movie as I've seen. In fact, it...wait, what was I talking about? All About Steve is surprisingly packed with extras. Paranormal Activity, one of the more buzzed-about movies of the year, hits Blu-ray with nary a special feature, but All About Steve merits all this?
First up is a commentary from screenwriter Kim Barker, director Phil Traill, Sandra Bullock, Thomas Haden Church, Bradley Cooper, and Ken Jeong. They sound like they had a lot of fun recording it -- certainly more fun than I did watching the actual movie -- but it's mostly just them laughing at each other's jokes for 90 minutes with an occasional production anecdote throw in. An inordinate amount of time is spent discussing Sandra Bullock's breasts.
The disc also includes deleted/alternate scenes and the comedy-mandatory gag reel. The deleted scenes include optional commentary, but oddly enough, so does the gag reel. If you're wondering why you would need the cast and crew's insights into footage of people flubbing their lines or cracking up, well, you're not alone on that one. The silliness continues with an a cappella duet featuring Bradley Cooper and Ken Jeong delivering such stirring lyrics as "All about Steve, we wanna know, we wanna know." Actually, those are pretty much all the lyrics, they just repeat them over and over again. File this one under "It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time." It also features commentary, because man do these people like to talk.
A pair of featurettes focus on the film and the director, respectively, and everything is capped off with a few trailers, a photo gallery, and a fake Entertainment Tonight-style program called "Hollywood Dish with Mena Micheletti." "Mena" goes behind the scenes and fake-interviews the cast, and yes, it is a joke that wears out its welcome long before the 20-minute runtime is over. Which is pretty much consistent with everything about All About Steve.
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