Tao of Steve, The (2000) **
Directed by Jenniphr Goodman. Written by Duncan North, Greer Goodman and Jenniphr Goodman. Photography, Teodoro Maniaci. Editing, Sarah Gartner. Production design, Rosario Provenza. Music, Joe Delia. Produced by Anthony Bregman. Cast: Donal Logue (Dex), Greer Goodman (Syd), Kimo Wills (Dave), Ayelet Kaznelson (Beth), David Aaron Baker (Rick), Nina Jaroslaw (Maggie), et al. A Sony Pictures Classics release. 87 minutes. R. (language, pot, content), At the New Art Theatre.
Last night I saw on cable the 1949 "The Lady Takes a Sailor" directed by the often great Michael Curtiz ("Captain Blood, "The Sea Wolf," "Santa Fe Trail,"'Yankee Doodle Dandy," "This is the Army," ""Casablanca," "Mildred Pierce." etc.) "Lady Takes a Sailor" is a pretty bad screwball comedy with Jane Wyman and Dennis Morgan, yet I enjoyed its unpretentious nonsense. I enjoyed less "The Tao of Steve." which ambitions to be both funny and "profound." But don't take my word for this, as the movie does have a following, beginning with its premiere at Sundance.
Its first-time director's first name is Jenniphr (sic). (It's a small shock, but less so that a lady I saw whose name, I swear, was Latrina). After her 1994 graduation from the NYU film school, Ms. Goodman (born in Santa Fe) moved back to New Mexico with her spouse. For two years they shared a house with old friend Duncan North, a kindergarten teacher who was overweight and an amazing lady-killer. North, becoming the center of a projected film, worked with Ms. Goodman and her New York-based actress sister Greer Goodman for two years on a script based on Mr. North life, activities and sexual strategies.
The result is (in it makers' words) "a romantic comedy" in which Duncan North becomes kindergarten teacher Dex (no last name) played by Donal Logue with the help of additional body contours. Dex is a slacker with time on his hands. The Tao of the title is the "philosophy" and the modus operandi of this most improbable Casanova. Set in (or near?) Santa Fe, the story is essentially about sex rather than love. There is no Steve in it. The name refers to improbable role models, all actors named Steve:: Steve Austin (of TV's "Six Million Dollar Man," Steve McGarrett (of TV's "Hawaii Five-O," and way above all, Steve McQueen. What Dex admires is their COOL.
Having just seen again McQueen in the original, 1968 "The Thomas Crown Affair," having found it (again) a silly, nonsensical, empty stylistic exercise, I'm having second thoughts about cool, what it is, where and what it gets you. Here is gets you a stream of semi-Zen, of references to Marx (Groucho), to the philosopher Heidegger (and/or Kierkegaard?), to Mozart, etc.
I forgot to mention that the film opens with a ten-year class reunion of college classmates, with Dex sorting out the girls the way one examines a restaurant's menu. Dex used to be the hot-shot thinker of his class. His utterances vary in style, but they are sort of academic -- not the way college professors talk among themselves (in mostly sensible, normal English), but in the heavy academic, jargonish way they often argue or lecture.
Almost all who speak here seem to do so with their mouths open. I wonder why. On the other hand, given the sexual nature of the movie, we get neither gratuitous nudity nor the usual four-letter words. ( These are present of course, but in spirit or via euphemisms.)
I won't go or get into the "plot," except that it eventually gets Dex together with Syd. She is a stage designer. Ten years ago she was also the object of a one-night stand with Dex. And since Dex apparently dropped her pronto, and seems to have forgotten that micro-liaison, she's mad. And the flitting, non-committing man falls in love with her this time. The balance of the movie is about the possible transformation of the two into a twosome.
Some passages are pretty good, I agree. But the attraction of opposites which, in film after film, begins with antagonism and leads to "amore" is one of filmdom's most durable and fallacious illusions.
There are two lessons we can extract from the picture. One, that a little learning can be a bore to others. The other that a would-be seducer or lover who is fat should not worry about it.
In the filmmakers' suggestion box I will place a message: " If you want to show the complexities of male-female relationships, see the films of Eric Rohmer, study them, then do your own, different thing."