The Tao of Steve

My Rating:

A battle of the sexes simple enough to review in real time!
Add as much as 1/2 star if you look at the cover of the video box and think, "Hey, that's me!" The niche demographic appeal of this movie is not to be overlooked.

Bitable Bytes:
"A new concept in film...!"
"...Golden and ironic!"
"It puts forward a worldview that's so predominant that all of the philosophical window-dressing cannot hide its mainstream obviousness."

What to do while watching:
Write a review of the film as it progresses, attempting to predict the direction of the movie and hoping for some surprises along the way.

What to eat while watching:
Golden raisins.

Yes, you heard correctly: this is a new concept in film critique: it's called "real-time reviewing." As I watch this film, I will pause it during logical breaks and attempt to encapsulate what I have seen so far.

This concept came to me from a habit I have when watching movies that have classic setups. Whenever a familiar story seems to be hatching, I cannot help but guess whether it will end the obvious, expected way or take a turn somewhere along the line. Ninety-nine percent of action films end exactly as you'd imagine them, with the good guy winning. Almodovar, on the other hand, tends to end films exactly as you'd expect, but will take his plot through Kinneshkocken via Upper Volta before arriving there.

A film like The Tao of Steve at least pretends to diverge from the traditional tale of the likeable loser who winds up getting the girl. It has cast a fat dude, Donal Logue (Dex), as the lead, and as I pause the film for the first time, it has spent the first 20 minutes highlighting this fact and patting itself on the back for adopting a chunky protagonist. Perfect girl for him, Sid (Jenniphr Goodman), is dating a handsome and conspicuously slender blonde man with almost no lines (so far).

Dex is an amiable elementary school teacher, with a brilliant mind and a penchant for philosophy. Despite his weight gain and classic signs of underachievement since college, we know from the opening reunion scene that he still retains the powers of romance, embodied in the Tao of Steve, as in McQueen, McGarret, and Six-Million Dollar Austin. He has a loving pet dog and a motorbike. But will the script that puts so much effort into making us think highly of Dex (and of itself, as a script) abandon him at the end without true love? I truly doubt it.

Fearless prediction number one: in the next 20 minutes, something in Sid's relationship will go awry and she will find Dex available for comfort, human, and companionship. Fearless prediction number two: Dex gets the girl in the end.

I also expect that this movie will continue to spell its reality out for me-especially when its reality is contrary to the one I know. For example, Sid says that none of her friends have ever heard of the Bugaloos. Maybe none of her friends are close to her age group? Maybe she only buddies with 20-somethings and octogenarians? If you're thirty-something and don't know the Bugaloos, I'd like you to e-mail me and let me know. Fearless prediction three: no e-mails to this effect will reach me.

Now (real time), I return to New Mexico, Dex, and his philosophic crush...


Real-time review continues (at 45 minutes): Prediction number one is true as can be. The cute but silent dude committed the foul of falling asleep at the opera-which in the reality of this movie is something that man cannot help but do and which offends the women they date to no end.

Dex has made strides toward Sid. It looks likely that he will indeed get the girl by the closing credits. If there is evidence to the contrary, it's in the soundtrack, a hipster pop repertoire that says things like "I lied when I said I was the outdoor type," and "I'm just a friendly underachiever, but my heart is golden and ironic."

Meanwhile, I've had to sit through a lot of talk. Characters talk about their relationships. That's not so bad, because it isn't such a steady stream. What's bad is that Dex spiels constantly, illuminating the Tao of Steve, a quasi-Zen practice that enables non-good-looking men to get laid. The script brings an ingenue, Dave, to the table to learn the Tao, and that gives Dex almost endless space to postulate, aphorize, obfuscate, and expostulate on this rather small-minded view of human relationships and sexuality.

I want to address, briefly, my own reaction to this. I find it a turn off. It's not because it's actively un-PC. If anything, that is the one quality that makes it alluring. It's that it puts forward a worldview that's so predominant that all of the philosophical window-dressing cannot hide its mainstream obviousness. There's nothing interesting, deep, or enlightened about the philosophy around which this film was written, and it seems clear that it was written around little else besides this.

Dex is a very suitable holder for all of the screenwriter's pyrite intellectualizing (with sex at its base, of course); but as much as I'd like to like this character and the actor, who clearly cares, I really can't care. The whole thing kind of falls flat, so though I stick to my prediction as I head into the last leg, I really don't much mind being right or wrong. Either way this film has been an exercise in bluffing. The big idea behind it couldn't beat jack-high, no pair.


It's over, and guess what! Dex learned something about himself and about what it means to be a man. And he got the girl. I heard a lot more talking and saw the obvious plot points played out in increasingly lazy cliches as the film passed the 80-minute mark.

I give one star for each obvious plot turn in this movie. 1) The ladies' man falls in love; 2) the ladies' man makes a pass and flops; 3) the ladies' man works into the good graces of the lady love; 4) the lady lover's current beau flops; 5) the ladies' man trains the male ingenue; 6) the lady love hears all about being a ladies' man from the ingenue; 7) the lady love leaves town while the man stews; 8) the ladies' man confronts his own shallowness; and 9) the ladies' man finds and wins the girl. That's nine. Plus one quarter star for je ne sais qua. Either I'm in a good mood, or there is something in the acting and direction that's earnest enough to warrant a little sympathetic gesture, if not actual sympathy.

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For your collection: The Tao of Steve.

You might like:
Almodovar's Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down

Gooden's Listening to:
Blue Valentine by Tom Waits

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