Monday, June 13, 2011

all about sexism?

I just saw All About Steve on cable and it was a fun little movie. Hardly the worst thing out there. So why all the bad press and low ratings? Sandra Bullock actually won the "Razzie" for Worst Actress and being Sandra Bullock, she attended the Razzies and accepted her award. According to imdb, "She brought a wagon full of DVDs of this film for the 300 attendees and asked them to watch or re-watch the movie. If in fact the audience decided she was NOT the Worst Actress and changed their minds, Bullock promised to come back to the Razzies next year, turn back in her award and buy drinks for everybody." The day after the Razzies Bullock won the Best Actress Oscar for The Blind Side. Ahhh, irony.

Watching any of the old classics on TCM there are dozens of movies that weren't box-office bonanzas but were nice character studies and are still fun to watch, as is All About Steve. Why did All About Steve get lambasted by critics? What about the audience? Did they really hate the film, or has everyone been so American Idol'd to death that they need some supposed "expert" to tell them what to watch, what is good?

So why did so many consider All About Steve Razzie-worthy? It's not your standard rom-com. It's not really a rom-com at all, although the studio advertised it as such. It's a comedy with an obnoxious protagonist who happens to be female. There have been plenty of male misfit heroes — Bill Murray is beyond annoying (and also funny as hell) in What About Bob. Jim Carrey and Jerry Lewis have made careers out of playing obnoxious characters. So why was there so much objection to Sandra Bullock playing an equally difficult person in this role? Was it because she was a woman?

All About Steve isn't even remotely about Steve, which is of course, the point. It's about the quirky character of Mary Horowitz, played by Bullock, and how she finds herself through her obsession for news cameraman Steve (Bradley Cooper), and how she breaks out of a self-created cocoon, sees the world, and makes some real friends. It's also a road movie — it's completely absurd and it's quite entertaining. Mary is a person that in real life many, if not most people, would definitely avoid. How many times have you sat on a bus and been stuck seated next to a compulsive talker, wondering, "Is this a crazy person? Or just lonely or socially awkward? Will they get off soon or will I have to listen to them the whole ride?"

Characters like Mary in movies are almost invariably played by men, as women's roles are not typically personality-driven. Women are called on to be beautiful, sarcastic and funny, maybe even sometimes brave. But women can be just as nutty, just as annoying, if given the chance. The panning of All About Steve seems to be mostly a backlash against Bullock's character. Women, especially pretty ones, and heroines, are not supposed be so verbal, so quirky, so difficult to like. The character of Steve keeps calling Mary a stalker, and that is even how the movie was advertised — as a stalker romantic comedy. That sort of description couldn't help but drive people away.

But as every character keeps pointing out to Steve — Mary's not really a stalker. Deluded, going through an emotional crisis after being fired from her beloved job, beyond socially awkward, absolutely. She actually thinks that Steve invited her to join him at his job, on a location shoot. The audience knows that wasn't what Steve intended, but Mary doesn't. As off-putting as Mary may be at times, and as eccentric as her behavior can appear, Steve never seems exactly repulsed by her. He was more than happy to make out with her until she started talking and wouldn't stop. Spouting interesting (to her) but completely extraneous facts while they are in the clinch killed the mood, "There's over a million Stevens with a "V" in the country. It's much more popular than the "PH" way. Twice as popular, in fact. I think it was the the Brits who prefer their PH's."

Mary is too much for Steve to process. He's overwhelmed by her. He can't deal with her. Critics seemed to have had the same reaction. But Bullock is actually wonderful in the movie. She's not afraid to be eccentric, even unlikable. The first scene, where we meet Mary as she walks to work, to a job she loves, and sees people working on the crossword puzzle that she created in the local newspaper she works for is wonderful. She is absolutely giddy with joy. Her walk home, the same day, after a bad experience where she has been made to feel that her job and her life isn't as wonderful as she believes it is, shows the pain underneath all of her manic behavior. Bullock has always been drawn to playing eccentric female characters, and she plays them in movies she produces as well (Miss Congeniality, Two Weeks Notice) — she is one of All About Steve's producers.

Steve and the audience get to know the real Mary as the movie progresses. Steve's friends and co-workers (a wonderful Thomas Haden Church as narcissistic would-be anchor Hartman Hughes and Ken Jeong as producer Angus) see Mary's good points immediately. There is more to her than a hyper personality and her shiny red boots. Hopefully All About Steve will get more attention on DVD and cable. I actually like Bullock's performance in All About Steve much more than The Blind Side. It's quirkier.
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