All About Steve


All About Steve

Bradley Cooper finds this movie as frustrating as we do.

(20th Century Fox) Sandra Bullock, Bradley Cooper, Thomas Haden Church, Ken Jeong, DJ Qualls, Howard Hesseman, Katy Mixon, Keith David, Beth Grant. Directed by Phil Traill

We all are who we are; that is an unshakable fact. Sometimes, who we are falls a mite outside what most folks would consider normal. There’s nothing wrong with that but sometimes people fall so far outside of normal that they can’t even see normal from where they are. Again, nothing wrong with that – most of the time.

Mary Magdalene Horowitz (Bullock) – yes, she’s half-Jewish, half-Catholic – works as a crossword puzzle constructor (a.k.a. a cruciverbalist) for a Sacramento daily newspaper. She’s recently moved back home with dear old Mom and Dad, mainly because her own apartment is being fumigated. Mary is 40ish, and single. She pretty much has always been single. She has a nervous habit of talking non-stop using a ton of $5 words and spitting out trivial facts like they’re watermelon seeds at a country fair. She also wears a pair of shiny bright red disco boots everywhere that pretty much guarantee her that nobody will ever – and I mean ever – take her seriously.

Other than that, she’s a pretty decent-hearted woman who just needs to meet the right man, and she thinks she’s done that. His name is Steve (Cooper) and he works as a cameraman for a cable news channel. They meet on a blind date at which she is completely smitten by his charm. However, after she about rapes him in the cab of his truck at the date’s conclusion, his feelings for her are a lot less sanguine. As a matter of fact, his tiles squeal as he tries to drive away from her at warp speed. Scotty, push the engines ‘til they blow.

She loses her job after constructing a crossword puzzle in which every clue has something to do with her would-be boyfriend. With no obligations holding her back, she decides to follow him everywhere he goes from one big news story to the next, much to the bemusement of his smarmy on-camera reporter Hartman Hughes (Church) and their producer Angus (Jeong).

Along the way she is subjected to every indignity you can imagine (and a few you can’t). Now, I have nothing against putting characters in a comedy through the ringer, but some of the actions border on the cruel, like the bus driver who tricks her into getting off the bus, then drives away, stranding her in the middle of nowhere.

Part of the problem is that it’s Sandra Bullock, man. You want to like her and at times here I nearly do, but the character is so filled with quirks and ticks that you want to get far, far away from her, which is never a good thing either in a movie theater or at home.

This is a movie that should have worked and to be fair, some of it does. The cast here is one any casting director would be proud to assemble, but there’s not a lot of chemistry here. The humor is a little on the low-brow side and going for something edgy they wind up instead just make you wonder what the heck they were thinking.

There really isn’t one place to lay blame at. One gets the impression that there’s a lot of ad libbing going on, but the script and story aren’t that strong to begin with. There is certainly a good deal of overacting, kind of like silent cinema comedy in the 21st century.

This movie was bookended by The Proposal and The Blind Side, the latter of which won Bullock her first Oscar. Unfortunately, this movie also won her a Razzie, making her the first actress to win one of each in the same year. That All About Steve sat on a studio shelf for two years should have been fair warning that this movie wasn’t going to be successful. Even if you’re a big fan of Miss Bullock as I am, you’re going to find a very hard time to find nice things to say about this one.

WHY RENT THIS: A very likable cast that appears to be having a good time makes you really want to like this movie.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The cast tries just a little too hard sometimes to be funny and the script veers off from genuinely madcap to sincerely silly in places.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some sexual innuendo but for the most part it’s harmless; you might think twice about bringing the very young (i.e. preschoolers) but otherwise this is okay for most audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: During the scene in which Mary is soaking in the bathtub, the song in the background is sung by Helga Bullock, Sandra’s real-life mom.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s actually a surprising amount of material for a movie many figured would get the bare-bones treatment. There’s a mock behind-the-scenes interview with the terminally annoying Kerri Kenney as an “Access Hollywood”-type interviewer and a Fox Movie Channel program called “Life After Film School” in which three film students interview director Phil Traill.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: A Perfect Getaway

Mozart and the Whale


Mozart and the Whale

Josh Hartnett and Radha Mitchell are taken for a ride.

(Millennium) Josh Hartnett, Radha Mitchell, Gary Cole, John Carroll Lynch, Rusty Schwimmer, Erica Leerhsen, Nate Mooney, Sheila Kelly, Robert Wisdom. Directed by Petter Naess

Asperger’s Syndrome is a form of autism in which the patients are high-functioning, with a difficulty in socializing but an amazing ability to lock in on something that fascinates them, whether it is mathematics, trivia or molecular structure. They are often misunderstood as social misfits when in reality they just don’t have the mechanism to cope with social situations that the rest of us take for granted.

Jerry (Hartnett) is a New York cab driver who is afflicted with Asperger’s. He can add numbers in his head like a human calculator, but he has trouble carrying on a conversation without turning it into a non-stop soliloquy filled with random facts. He loves birds to the extent that many fly free in his terminally cluttered apartment, and he often takes one with him to work driving his cab (which begs the question; wouldn’t it fly out the door whenever someone got in or out?) much to the discomfort of his passengers.

Like many Asperger’s patients, he needs routine and structure and when things break out of the routine, he has difficulty coping. When he accidentally runs into a parked car, he gathers his things and walks away, leaving a group of angry people.

He belongs to a group of fellow Asperger’s patients, and he takes comfort in the presence of people he can relate to, even though some of them like Gregory (Lynch) can be a bit on the curmudgeonly side.

Into this group comes Isabelle (Mitchell) who has been referred to it by her therapist. She is the diametric opposite of Donald; where he is introverted and shy, she is straightforward and without fear. She is direct where he is not. She comes into his life much like a cannonball would come into a group of Civil War-era infantrymen and she has much the same effect. She invites him to a Halloween party and dresses up like Mozart; he puts on a rather disheveled whale costume and almost doesn’t show up because he is so obsessive about time.

Despite all the obstacles, the two form a romantic partnership that brings a brand new dimension into their lives. When Isabelle cleans up Donald’s apartment, he freaks out but eventually he begins to learn how to accept her presence into his life. When he realizes that they can’t afford the house she wants and the lifestyle they both want, he takes a job at a university in statistics where he excels. When he invites his boss over for dinner, it turns into a disaster largely in part to Isabelle’s inability to cope with the situation.

There is obviously a deep emotional connection between the two, but it becomes just as clear that their Asperger’s is getting in the way of their relationship. Will they be able to overcome something so deeply ingrained in them?

This is based loosely on real life couple Jerry and Mary Newport. Norwegian director Naess, whose resume includes the Oscar-nominated Elling, does a magnificent job in portraying the disease, so much so that the movie is often screened at legitimate autism conferences as an illustration of the social consequences of the disease.

Hartnett, who was reportedly unhappy with the final version of the film and consequently did little or no promotion of the movie, does some of the best work of his career here. He gives Donald depth that one wouldn’t expect, making him seem real and authentic. Much of this is due to Ronald Bass’ script but Hartnett pulls out some nuances that I didn’t think he had in him based on previous performances. This is the kind of movie that could get him more challenging roles if he wants to pursue that kind of work.

Mitchell, who has become a steady leading actress since first attracting notice in Pitch Black, also does a great job, making Isabelle entirely non-stereotypical and giving her the kind of spunk and fullness of life that make her in many ways the most memorable aspect of the movie. While Hartnett’s performance is more subtle, Mitchell gets to go over the top here and she does it nicely without descending into parody. Her and Hartnett make an attractive couple and while the chemistry is non-traditional, it works all the same.

The supporting cast of veteran character actors does well in their roles, particularly Lynch and Schwimmer. At no time do you get the feeling that anyone is looking down on their characters; these are all real people with real problems and while they may have different challenges than we do, that makes them no less fascinating.

This is director Naess’ first American film, and he does pretty well although the pacing gets a little choppy. Then again, that may be due to the nature of the characters that can lose interest in something and simply stop. That makes it occasionally difficult on the viewer who feels like the movie is veering off unexpectedly. It’s a kind of cinematic vertigo. While he never descends into movie of the week treacle, there are a few moments that are overly sentimental to me but thankfully they are few and far between.

While most look at Rain Man as their view into autism, in many ways this is a much more authentic look (although some groups have criticized the movie for playing into the perception that all autism patients have savant-like skills, which is actually much more rare than Hollywood would lead you to believe) at the disease. As a society, we tend to marginalize these people or worse, ignore them altogether. Hopefully, a viewing of Mozart and the Whale will give you a fresh perspective on a disease that affects real people and is in nearly every community in one form or another.

WHY RENT THIS: A very authentic-feeling look at the lives of those with Asperger’s Syndrome. Hartnett and Mitchell have some quirky chemistry.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie’s pacing can be a bit abrupt. There are moments that are a bit mawkish.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some allusions to sexual subjects and a little bit of foul language but otherwise nothing too disturbing. However, the subject matter may be a bit much for smaller children.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The screenplay was written by Ronald Bass who also wrote Rain Man, another movie about autism. He was inspired in this case by a 1995 article on Jerry and Mary Newport.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Tony Manero