New review: All About Steve

Directed by Phil Traill; screenplay by Kim Barker

Sandra Bullock is back in her comfort zone as a cute, geeky, overexcited neurotic in this comedy tailor made for her comic persona. Mary Horowitz is a “crossword constructor” (she designs crossword puzzles once a week for her local paper and calls it a career) defined by her obsessive personality, encyclopedic stores of factoids that pop up through what she imagines is small talk, and lipstick-red thigh boots that she pairs with every outfit. You know, the utterly clueless smart girl.

Sandra Bullock and Bradley Cooper
Sandra Bullock and Bradley Cooper

“Just enjoy being normal,” her editor advises. Fat chance. She hasn’t had a boyfriend in what could be decades and when the blind date her parents arrange turns out to be a real hotty, she swaps her frumpy fashions for streetwalker duds and jumps him before he can pull away from the curb. Which Steve (Bradley Cooper), a cameraman for a cable news network, wouldn’t mind if she would just stop babbling while she tears off his clothes. He fakes an emergency. She takes a brush off of as a come one and follows him from one breaking news location to another. What she treats as kismet and signs from the stars, he pegs (accurately) as delusions and stalker tendencies.

There’s not much to All About Steve but it’s a part Bullock does well: the tomboy, the goofball, the cute but weird ugly duckling oblivious to the way normal people behave in the real world. Sure, she drives a bus full of passengers mad with her incessant, droning babble, but at other times Bullock exudes a harmless excitability and authenticity that can also win over folks, like a straight-talking trucker and a pair of protest groupies who hit the road on her camp-following odyssey. Okay, these aren’t really normal folks but they are her people.

Bullock is like an adolescent in a woman’s body, hopping about and screeching in delight at the littlest thing, and chattering over every stray thought when she’s nervous or excited, which is pretty much any moment she’s force to interact with another human. She spends so much time fooling herself that she doesn’t need more than a push from prankster newsman Hartman Hughes (Thomas Haden Church), the Ted Baxter of cable news reporters, to let her enthusiasm go into hyperdrive. Emphasis on the hyper. It’s not as grating as it could be, but the humor wears thin pretty quickly and director Phil Traill, a TV veteran, doesn’t really understand how to shape a gag or deliver visual humor. The schtick is sustained only by Bullock’s energy, which isn’t enough to power the whole film.

Bradley Cooper has become the surprise comedy pin-up of good looking nice-guy goofs this season, thanks to “The Hangover,” and fills the part with empty charm and vague personality. Church provide plenty of drawling vanity as an aging and arrogant news personality more concerned with his on-camera presentation than the details of his report. The lampoon of cable news sensationalism is duly cartoonish without actually offering any real satirical teeth, yet the film treats the sensation-junkie crowds that feed on the media’s sentimental manipulation of tragedy and hope as some kind of barometer of emotional authenticity. The filmmakers ought to catch Ace in the Hole for a little reality check.

Given that, I appreciate that the film embraces her eccentricities without trying to have it both ways. Just because you appreciate her energy and excitement and passion doesn’t mean she’s the girl for you. Love may conquer all but blind, unthinking obsession merely leads to a generic road movie with comic asides.

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I'm a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I've written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View. I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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