Why do women find this man irresistible?
This is the kind of filmmaking that renews my faith in indies. Get some people together, use your friends and relatives to write, direct, and act in the film, add in a little money and get something endearing and intelligent without the pretensions I too often associate with anything that might have the word "arthouse" circling around it. Lead actor Donal Logue won the special Jury Prize at Sundance last year and The Tao of Steve was nominated for the Grand Jury prize. I know a lot of people use that sort of acclaim to believe a film is worthy, but I'm pedestrian enough that this sort of film festival honor isn't an automatic blessing. What film can you remember where there is a Zen spouting fat guy using metaphysics to pick up chicks? This is a refreshing new look at the romantic comedy genre, and perhaps it works so well since most of it is true. As the end credits roll you see: "Based on a story by Duncan North. Based on an idea by Duncan North. Based on Duncan North."
In fact, Duncan North is a long time friend of Jenniphr (that's how it's spelled folks) Goodman, and it was their real experiences, along with sister Greer Goodman (co-writer and co-star of the film) that made up the basis for the script. A story this unusual had to be true.
Check out an interesting, well written and acted little film that will make you smile and probably make you think. Columbia has released this lesser known gem on DVD, and it's worth a look.
Facts of the Case
Dex (Donal Logue, The Patriot) is a fat, slovenly guy who has bong hits for breakfast so he can be even more childish in his job as a kindergarten teacher. Once thought of as "most likely to succeed," at his ten year high school reunion everyone is amazed at how fat he's gotten and has so few accomplishments. Still he has no trouble getting a married woman to have a tumble with him in the library just before returning her to her husband. His secret? His readings of Eastern metaphysics and philosophy has led him to the "Tao of Steve," a method of understanding the female psyche to quicker get them into bed. "Steve," by the way, is a metaphor; the name he claims is the most cool in men, such as Steve McQueen, and TV characters like Steve Austin and Steve McGarrett. The philosophy, simply put, is a) release your desire (since if a woman senses you have a sexual agenda she will see it coming), b) be excellent in their presence (it doesn't matter what you do, so long as you do it very well), and c) withdraw (be detached so that she will find you something to pursue). This strategy appears to be irresistible to most women, and Dex gets sex far more than he should by looking at him.
Everything seems fine if a bit emotionally bereft for Dex until he meets Syd (Greer Goodman), part time drummer and full time opera house set designer. She's in town to decorate the Santa Fe, NM opera house and is staying with a friend. The rules go out the window when Dex genuinely falls for someone, and he finds himself the pursuer.
Romantic comedies rise or fall on two things: the chemistry between the main two characters and the quality of the script. The Tao of Steve succeeds admirably in both these areas. Donal Logue (who both gained weight and wore a fat suit for the role) and Greer Goodman sparkle in their scenes together. Neither have the look of a gorgeous Hollywood star, but that works to the better in the authenticity of the film. And any script that can intelligently talk about Kierkegaard, Lao Tzu, male and female agendas, Josie and the Pussycats, and existentialism all in the same film gets my vote.
The character arc of Dex bears mentioning. He is easy with his lack of ambition, and complacent in his emotional detachment before meeting Syd. When his emotions get involved, he finds it difficult to apply "Steve" techniques on her, but doesn't mind using them on other women at the same time. It is only through teaching his friend Dave (Kimo Wills) how to use the techniques on women that he sees how shallow he has become and the true meaning of the "Tao of Steve," which is to be the best person you can be.
The film is largely the effort of a group of friends and relatives who put this together on a shoestring, often using their own homes as locations. This is Jenniphr Goodman's first feature film, and her direction is workmanlike but satisfying. You don't have to copy Truffaut or Hitchcock in every film after all, and it lends itself to the lack of pretension I appreciate. I don't feel a bit badly about calling this a "little" film, because it is one, and sometimes that is just right. Great credit is given to producer Anthony Bregman (The Ice Storm) in getting the film finished and marketed, and his experience, along with Donal Logue probably gave things the impetus that makes the difference between a forgotten festival entry and the DVD we see today.
The video quality is pretty good, but not all I could have hoped for. The main culprit is a fair amount of nicks and scratches from the source print. Otherwise things are very good, with a decent level of detail, great color saturation, and some beautiful scenery shown off well. The soundtrack is a modest Dolby 2.0 Surround, with some ambient sounds from the surrounds, but little directionality. Dialogue is clearly understood and anchored in the front, which is the main thing. An adequate soundtrack without real merit or flaw.
Extra content is lean but adequate as well. The main feature is the commentary track with Jenniphr and Greer Goodman, Donal Logue, and "the real Dex" Duncan North. The track starts off poorly with everyone talking over each other, and has a bit too much of a friends gabbing feel, but once it gets going becomes pretty interesting and fun. Scant talent files and trailers for three Donal Logue films complete the content.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Listening to the dialogue I got the impression of watching an episode of television's "The West Wing," as both have very snappy banter but you get the feeling that people don't really talk that way. So there is a level of artificiality in the intelligence and word choices of the characters, but I didn't mind.
This is a very nice film, which will make you chuckle if not laugh out loud, and has a uniqueness that is not normally found in romantic comedy. Give it a rental at least, and if you like it as much as I did then go out and buy it.
Everyone involved in this film are acquitted. I hope Jenniphr Goodman gets another film to direct soon.
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