Film Reviews

THE TAO OF STEVE

By • Aug 4th, 2000 •

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The posters and ads for the independent film The Tao of Steve featured a full-length photo of its star, Donal Logue, looking rumpled and overweight but flashing a charming smile. The headline posed the burning question, “Why do women find this man irresistible?” After seeing the movie, my response would be “Women are desperate and/or have low standards.”

This may be too harsh a judgment on a movie that’s not trying to be much more than a light romantic comedy. At the same time, I resent when a romantic comedy leaves me feeling not just disappointed in the movie itself, but depressed about the state of both male-female relationships and independent film.

Tao centers on Dex, the supposed babe magnet played by Logue. He’s a Santa Fe-based slacker who has put on a few dozen pounds since college (the opening scenes take place at a 10th-year reunion). Still, at least one woman finds him attractive enough to have standing-up sex in the library stacks-which we discover as a row of philosophy tomes shake with the force of the couple’s coupling.

These and other cute directorial flourishes, along with some snappy dialogue and a few good performances, are the bright spots in Tao. Greer Goodman, as a woman that Dex might actually be falling in love with (instead of simply hanging out with and screwing), is especially good. She gives a tart, no-nonsense delivery to her lines that mixes well with an all-too-human warmth in her eyes and body language.

Logue is also pretty good-his performance suggests that he’s well aware how full of shit he is, but also that he’s enjoying himself too much to change. I wonder, though, how much of the critical approbation he received for his performance was due to his “courage” in appearing fat in (gasp!) a LEADING MAN ROLE. Oh my god! Those independent film people are SO DARING!

All right, it is a bit refreshing to see a regular Joe Wal-Mart be sexual and attractive. But the film’s explanation as to why he’s attractive is itself part of the problem. Tao’s central conceit is that Dex’s success with the opposite sex is due to his ability to be as “cool” as the archetypal Steve(s) of the title: Steve McGarrett, Steve Austin, Steve McQueen. Leave aside whether any of these Steves are actually cool-that’s a matter for personal taste, and each viewer could insert his favorite masculine icons into Dex’s formula.

Throughout the film Dex espouses his “philosophy”-basically a guide to scoring with women-which can be boiled down to a few maxims: don’t be too eager; show off without appearing to show off; play it cool. Not only are these ideas insultingly simple-minded, they could just as easily be picked up by watching seven or eight episodes of “Friends.” (The TV show would also provide a lot more laughs.)

It’s not that the movie endorses this “philosophy” per se; in fact, Tao is supposed to be about Dex discovering the limits of the Tao of Steve. And I’m not suggesting that the movie should be some kind of politically correct document from the very start. That would eliminate all the dramatic conflict.

But a movie-any movie-is about more than what’s said, it’s about what happens. Even as Dex’s philosophy seems to be failing him, it is shown to work for a younger character who is even less attractive than Dex, physically and intellectually. This isn’t a story about men and women; this is a male fantasy covering its chauvinistic ass with some extra poundage.

Ah, but you could argue that Dex is at least candid about himself. He has a line early in the film when someone asks if he would ever date a fat woman. He says no and adds that he’s the worst kind of anti-fat bigot-a fat one. All this indicates, however, is that the filmmakers have glimmers of awareness that they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, develop any further.

One could argue that, as a gay man, my judgment about what straight women want, and how heterosexual men can attract them, is apt to be a bit warped. But whether my eye for all this is jaundiced or clear-eyed, I do see that in the real world, women-sometimes smart, successful, attractive women-pick men who, shall we say, will never be asked to model Speedos. They also fall for self-centered, childish guys that they can either feel superior to or mother. An entire self-help industry thrives on women who make just these choices.

But Tao isn’t even up to that level of complexity, or of satire. Even a light romantic comedy needs some grounding in reality (actually, the genre needs it more than most). Tao just doesn’t make its case. Unless we’re supposed to think the Greer Goodman character had a lobotomy in a scene that was conveniently cut, it simply doesn’t make sense that she would do anything more than enjoy Dex’s company for a while. She certainly wouldn’t fall in love with him or contemplate any kind of lasting relationship. It’s a little more credible that Dex’s feelings for her would encourage him to begin to change, but it’s still a stretch.

Tao seems like one of the new breed of tame, cutesy independent films-a spiky surface concealing a bland interior. It’s too bad-there ought to be something interesting to say about male-female relationships between the adolescent pranksterism of American Pie and the middle-aged angst of American Beauty.


Credits:
Directed by Jenniphr Goodman
Screenplay by Duncan North, Jenniphr Goodman, Greer Goodman
Starring Donal Logue, Greer Goodman

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