is Z the new A?

I first noticed Zooey Deschanel in The Go-Getter (full review) as the girl whose car gets stolen; That’s odd because most of the time she is narrating, and the most captivating part of her is the eyes. She’d been in David Gordon Green’s All the Real Girls and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but she didn’t stand out to me then. Not enough to remember her name. However, in 500 Days of Summer, I spent most of the film lost in those eyes. She put forth a fragility backed with a depth of strength and distance, that instantly reminded me of Audrey Hepburn.

Now, a friend of mine on twitter reminded me that liking Audrey became a bit of a cliche, but good taste is never hackneyed. The shallow admiration of her doesn’t dull her brilliant presence; a recent post at The House Next Door captured what makes her wonderful better than I can, but the fawn-like eyes are part of it, and Zooey has that for sure. In 500 Days, she plays Summer, and remains mysterious for most of the film. We see her through the eyes of office drone Tom Hansen, who works crafting platitudes at a greeting card company. She’s the new receptionist, and catches his eye immediately. But there’s more than that. They like the same music, something our generation has put so much weight on, best shown in High Fidelity; she flits around with her out of style hair and seems to have walked out of a novel.
The film begins by telling us that it is a story about love, but not a love story, and it remains true to this. It shouts its love of Mike Nichols’ The Graduate in the early brief narration and we see it play out subtly thereafter with a shot or two. Joseph-Gordon Leavitt of Brick fame plays Tom and shows incredible range here; the script lets him run the gamut from “that guy we like from the PG movie” as Trent from Swingers would say, to the sarcastic, self-loathing bastard with the broken heart. He manages to stay likeable through it all, and we’re never biting our tongue to stop from shouting relationship advice; the story is smart, and we don’t get that intolerable forced break-up that wouldn’t have happened if someone would just say something. It’s not a love story. If anything, it’s about guys like Tom, elbow deep in drudgery that keeps them from chasing their dreams, and girls like Summer, who’ve told themselves they don’t believe in love.
There’d be a whole new story if we told it from Summer’s perspective, but the charm is seeing glimpses of it through Tom’s eyes as he changes, and putting it together ourselves. While obvious comparison to Juno are inevitable, this isn’t a high school story where they steam along on the strength of our convictions; it does have a strong soundtrack, the kind of thing that quirky Minnesota gal might like in college, such as Belle & Sebastian and the Smiths; it has clever, colorful inter-title cards, and it’s so smart that we might think it’s too smart for its own good, but it isn’t. First-time director Marc Webb, and a first-time screenwriter duo of Michael Webber and Scott Neustadter have given us a great story here. And they’ve given Zooey Deschanel and Joseph-Gordon Levitt starring roles they deserve (they’ve since been in Yes Man and G.I. Joe, paychecks from which will hopefully hold them over until they can take better roles). My favorite? The scenes of early courtship as they goof around in an Ikea, it felt like something inspired by the Simon & Garfunkel song “America.”

Lambscore 4.5/5
Large Association of Movie Blogs

The Answer Man – Sneak Preview

Last night I got to see a screening of The Answer Man starring Jeff Daniels, Lauren Graham and Lou Taylor Pucci at a meeting of the Film Symposium. This enjoyable movie about a curmudgeonly reclusive author of a best-selling spiritual self-help book premiered at Sundance under the less appealing title of Arlen Faber, the name of the author, played by Jeff Daniels. The new title suits the film better. It’s the first feature by writer-director John Hindman, and what a first film it is.
Arlen Faber is the author of “Me and God,” a book in which he asked God many questions during a troubled time in his life and recorded the answers. But he never appeared publicly, and as the book skyrocketed through the charts and became part of popular culture 20 years ago, his silence and reclusiveness only made him more of an epic figure. Part Kahlil Ghibran, part J.D. Salinger, his book became a cottage industry while he was never heard from again. Now it is 20 years later, and his agent wants him to write a foreward for the anniversary edition.

Our introduction to Arlen is perfect. We see a collage of book covers, articles, magazines, and newspapers detailing the backstory while “Mr. Pitiful” by Matt Costa plays. The legend of Arlen Faber is built, and comes crashing down with feet of clay as the mailman rings the doorbell insistently. We immediately know that “the answer man” has his own problems, and holing up in his apartment and ignoring his legions of fans is not a symptom of enlightenment or genius. It’s such a great scene that I’m not going to ruin it for you.

The author hides in a tony Philly neighborhood where Elizabeth (Lauren Graham, “The Gilmore Girls”) has opened her chiropractor’s office, and fresh outta rehab Kris (Lou Taylor Pucci, Thumbsucker) runs a floundering bookstore. After Arlen throws his back out- and is such an ass to his agent that she leaves him writhing in pain- he is forced to crawl to Elizabeth’s office. She works her healing touch on him, and her charms affect him as well. He has a reason to leave the house and seek human contact.

His enormous collection of self-help and spiritual books makes him collide with Kris, who doesn’t want them, but Arlen refuses to take no for an answer. Eventually they find common needs and work out a bargain- Kris will get advice, but only if he takes books. Kris needs advice; his father is supportive but a devout alcoholic. Elizabeth has her own issues, but doesn’t ask Arlen for help. He tells her who he is, but she’s never read his book. She’s so overprotective of her 7-year old son Alex that he wears a 5-point racing harness in her enormous Volvo wagon and must subside on a vegan diet. As soon as he’s out of the car, she inhales a cigarette.

Arlen begins to lose his writer’s block and burst forth with epiphanies that put his new friends at ease. But they feel like empty platitudes to us. And the movie knows it, which is what makes it deviate from what we expect in a feel-good movie of this type. Arlen’s selfishness is just one obstacle. He’s a funny bastard, but he is a bastard. But when he’s good, he is good. He spends a lot of time with Alex, who is having trouble at school, and his scene with the teacher is a classic. He says what we’d all say if we weren’t programmed not to. We’ve bought in, and challenging our expectations is frightening. Not to Arlen. He has nothing to lose, and that freedom is only one aspect of his character. When we learn the root of his reclusion and misanthropy, it isn’t a plot device, but makes us think perhaps we could all speak to God, like he supposedly did.

Arlen, Kris and Elizabeth may not solve all their problems in this movie, but they identify them, the first and often hardest step. Their small discoveries are believable and feel right. The movie does have a flaw or two- it ends a bit abruptly, but in retrospect perhaps that is the right way. We saw three people crawl out into the daylight, three characters we enjoyed spending time with: sarcastic, wounded Kris, who manages to slog on despite massive challenges; Liz who wants to protect Alex, whose father abandoned them, from any future pain; and Arlen himself, who touched the lives of millions of strangers but can’t do it on a personal level.

Jeff Daniels has done comedy, and drama such as the excellent The Squid and the Whale; now he proves that he can do both. Lauren Graham channels Amy Adams a bit, but makes Elizabeth her own. And Lou Taylor Pucci plays something completely new from his career of innocent young men coming of age, such as in Thumbsucker and The Go-Getter, or the abused victims in Personal Velocity and Empire Falls. Olivia Thirlby (Juno) and Kat Denning (The 40-Year Old Virgin) have smaller roles that work perfectly, and Tony Hale (Buster from Arrested Development) is utterly hilarious as the persistent postman. And Max Antisell, playing young Alex in his first screen role, is what a child actor should be- utterly believable.
The movie has been compared to As Good As It Gets for its portrayal of a lovable bastard who collides with other damaged people who find that they might not be able to fix themselves, but may be able to patch each other up a little. I found The Answer Man to be more realistic and a bit more cynical, in a good way. There are no magic cures, and love isn’t going to cure your OCD overnight. “As Good” is very enjoyable, but you can see its slip showing a lot as it dances around the room. Answer Man does have any clear answers, and it knows it; it isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t bullshit you. After all, it’s about a bullshitter, and you can’t bullshit a bullshitter. That’s what made it work for me. It didn’t have scorn or sneers for any belief, but made it clear that if some “made up” philosophy or insights gets you through the night, that isn’t harmful in itself. The divine springs from within, when someone genuinely wants to help someone else. That’s what I got from it. Maybe I should write a book.

The Answer Man opens in limited release on July 24th; it is still listed on IMDb under it’s Sundance title of Arlen Faber, which has wisely been altered. This is one of the best movies to come out of Sundance recently, because it doesn’t feel like a Sundance film. I laughed a hell of a lot, and I was impressed with this movie throughout. Go see it this summer, you won’t regret it.

Lou Taylor Pucci was interviewed after the film, and spoke about the difficulties of method acting- Jeff Daniels was very in-character, and they only briefly connected because they both own RV’s. Lou himself finds becoming a character difficult himself- he had 5 roles in 6 months last year, and said it was tough remembering his own personal likes and dislikes, after running the gamut. It reminded me of Kurt Vonnegut’s short story “Who Am I This Time?” Lou grew up in Keansburg, New Jersey, not far from where the screening took place. To keep things honest, Lou is my cousin, but I try to be as objective as possible. For example, I wouldn’t give a good review to the abysmal 50 Pills– which even he’ll tell you to avoid.

Giving my cousin the finger. Gotta keep ’em humble.

Lou’s starred in many independent films such as The Go-Getter (full review), Thumbsucker (for which he won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival), The Chumscrubber, Fast Food Nation, Southland Tales, Personal Velocity and in HBO’s Empire Falls. This looks to be a breakout year with the release of The Answer Man, and four other films- The Horsemen with Dennis Quaid, Bret Easton Ellis’s The Informers, David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, and the virus thriller Carriers, that was seeking distribution but will probably come out now in the wake of swine flu, but it probably just missed that boat.

Over Her Dead Body

Eva Fangoria Parker should stick to Desperate Housewives. In Over Her Dead Body, she plays a shrill, control freak bride blessedly killed by an ice sculpture on her wedding day. If the movie ended there, it would be an Oscar winning short subject, but it goes on for another hour and a half, with only the snappy wit and charm of Paul Rudd to save it. Stephen Root also has a thankless part as a scruffy sculptor, and Lake Bell is decent as Rudd’s romantic interest, but there’s not much else to like.
Paul Rudd’s a guy’s guy. In Role Models (full review) he showed he can carry his own film, but unfortunately here he’s playing second fiddle to a ghostly bridezilla. Normally, I enjoy Hollywood fantasies about the afterlife. For a guy to watch Ghost, it says something. So I sat through this one with the Firecracker, since she has a crush on Paul Rudd, and I needed to make sure she wouldn’t pack her bags and stalk him after seeing this. He’s pretty much the only redeeming quality of the film, which suffers from some of the same malaise Ghost Town (full review) had- it’s tough to make us care about a couple of funny jerks and then believe when they change like Scrooge on Christmas Day.
Eva Longhorn Parker tries really hard, but she’s a bitch (the film’s original title was Ghost Bitch) from scene one, and we wonder why Paul Rudd would tolerate her for even a moment. The script plays off of stuff from Ghost, but could have used a few rewrites- I began to wonder if Rudd’s dialogue was improvised, but even that is only barely memorable. All I can recall right now is when he gets her a sandwich, and says “I hope you like it, I was going to get pumpernickel, but didn’t want you to think I was imposing my weird bread fetish on you.” There’s also a lot of slapstick involving his new love interest and her Great Dane that makes you wonder.

So boys, if you are forced to watch this, negotiate oral sex in advance. And that may not be enough to make this tolerable. Gals- it might be worth throwing on in the background if you like Rudd. And yeah, her name’s Longoria, I know. Durrrr.

Rating: Stinky

Ghost Town

This is the first in an installment of shorter reviews of films that really don’t require the in-depth deconstruction of my relentlessly delving mind. They will be called Cable Quickies and NetFlix Q-Picks, and I’ll rate them as awful, worthy, or “enh.”

Ghost Town is Ricky Gervais’s first starring role in a feature film. If you don’t know who Ricky Gervais is, he’s the creator of “The Office” and star of the British version, and same-same of “Extras,” some of the best comedy shows of the last decade. He’s a stand-up comedian of no small stature or talent, and one of the funniest self-effacing comics working. He makes a nastier, less pathetic character for Ghost Town, where he plays Bertram Pincus, a dentist who after a botched colonoscopy, can now see Dead People. Apparently the bug up his ass was disturbed and by the probing, and struck back.
Greg Kinnear plays the other jerk in the film- a cheat who dies while arguing with someone who unintentionally informed his wife of his unfaithful ways. Of course, every other ghost in New York City can also see Ricky, and like Whoopi he can’t get rid of them. This is all fun, but the movie follows a typical rom-com formula when Greg wants to use Pink-ass to sabotage his wife’s relationships, and he of course ends up falling for her. She’s played by Téa Leoni, as tasty-looking and bland as ever. No wonder she married David Duchovny. The movie needed more of Gervais simply conversing with Téa or Kinnear, which for me was the funny part. Scrooge is funny, when he sees the light and turns into Mother Teresa, not so much.

Rating: “Enh”

Happy New Year – When Harry Met Sally…

In which the age-old accusation of whether When Harry Met Sally rips off Annie Hall is discussed

Last night, I asked Firecracker what a good New Year’s movie was, and using her encyclopedic knowledge of rom-coms, she recalled that When Harry Met Sally… (the second movie I review this week to incorporate an ellipsis in the title) had integral scenes set on New Year’s Eve. So I fired up the Netflix instant-o-rama and we watched it. And amazingly, it’s held up really well.
I hadn’t seen it in ages; it’s one of those scripts that were peddled as a model for The Perfect Script to aspiring screenwriters in its day, and it does follow Ebert’s mantra of having 3 good scenes and no bad ones. Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan meet in 1977, as they road trip from Chicago to NYC after college; they abhor each other, but over the years they keep meeting, eventually become friends- something Harry says men and women can’t really do- and of course, fall in love. Despite the serendipity of the plot it manages to be very believable, and the strong personalities of its leads are tempered by the excellent character acting of their best friends Marie and Jess (Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby).
For a long time I fell under the spell of a raging wanna-be screenwriter pal of mine who said that this movie was a mainstream ripoff of Woody Allen’s classic Annie Hall, and there are certainly some similarities. Woody has his own adages about relationships, the infamous “why do we put up with it? We need the juice” analogy to the joke about the woman who’s husband thinks he’s an orange. In this movie, Harry says women and men can’t be friends, because even if there’s no attraction, the guy wants to sleep with the gal. He’s quite the one-night stand cad, so it’s one of those self-fulfilling prophecies. Now, you might say it strains credibility that Billy Crystal can bag a date in NYC at will, but remember this was the late ’80s when professional women were first performing the schizoid juggling act of balancing career and family, with hormones and ambition at loggerheads. Once the clock ticked past 30, Cosmo was telling them they’d better fall back spreadeagled in Bryant Park and take the first breathing male that conjoined with her. Woody was also unlikely, but he must be a charming S.O.B. if you see his hit list. So it’s believable, but being a rich director helps.

She sure dresses like Annie…

Another similarity is the breaking of the fourth wall to interview old couples and ask how they met and how they stay together. In Annie Hall, it was always played for laughs- “We use a large vibrating egg.” In Sally… it is played for sentiment, and before IMDb we thought that these were real couples and not actors, that’s how sweet it was. Last night I noticed that one of the old wives was the #1 fan from The Running Man who says Arnie is a bad motherfucker, so there goes that. The interludes are quite successful, and break up the episodic nature of the movie very well.

Marshall McLuhan breaking the fourth wall.

Both movies are very funny, with Annie being the pinnacle of Woody melding his brand of absurd comedy from Take the Money and Run and his clever relationship commentary from fare such as Manhattan, and Sally is what catapulted Reiner from that guy who did Spinal Tap and The Princess Bride to a comic director superstar. It was also Nora Ephron’s first dip into the rom-com well, having written the solid drama Silkwood previously; now it seems like all she does is update classics, which is unfortunate. The IMDb trivia tells me that Harry and Sally are loosely based on Reiner and Ephron themselves, and that’s probably why this is one of the best “unlikely couples get together” rom-coms, because the characters are built on so solid a foundation.

Two great character actors.

It also takes two actors I can take or leave- Billy Crystal post-Comic Relief, when he, Whoopi and Robin Williams decided that being funny wasn’t enough, and they had to educate people about issues in their films- and Meg Ryan, who I can barely stand except in Joe Versus the Volcano. Personally, I think this is her best role. She plays it very naturally, just as Crystal tones his schtick down to a minimum, except for the “please partake of my pecan pie” ad-lib in the museum. Maybe seeing real actors like Bruno Kirby and Carrie Fisher- who can take any line and make it work- rubbed off on these two stars. Whatever it was, it worked. They’re the perfect foils for happy-go-lucky, I know-what-I-want Sally and the talkative, self-assured but easily depressed Harry.

Oops spoilerz

You can’t discuss this movie without mentioning its most famous line- “You made a woman meow?” Just kidding. Of course, it’s “I’ll have what she’s having,” after Sally fakes a very loud orgasm in Katz’s Deli. Having eaten there, I thought she was just exalting their incredible hot pastrami sandwich, but she’s proving to Harry that he probably can’t tell when a woman is faking. After hearing his relationship mantras for half the film, it’s refreshing to see him put in his place. Meg Ryan suggested that she act it out; the line however, was Crystal’s idea, so they can share the credit.

Go to Katz’s, you’ll make noises like this.

This is one of those movies that’s played endlessly on basic cable in cut form, so if you haven’t seen it on DVD I highly suggest you do so. There are a few minor cuts that make a big difference. So, is it a ripoff? I don’t think so. More a homage; they meet in ’77, the year Annie Hall came out; Sally dresses like Annie in one scene. I don’t think it was coincidence. It doesn’t take anything away from Annie Hall, which is still a groundbreaking comedy, and most rom-coms since do stand on its shoulders. Watch it next New Year’s Eve, if you’ve got someone to kiss.

Rob Reiner would go on to make North, one of the worst movies Roger Ebert ever reviewed and one of his most entertaining reviews. Go read it. Woody Allen would go on to make How to Sleep with Your Adopted Daughter and Be a Creepy Old Bastard Making the Same Kind of Movies Over and Over with the Occasional British Suspense Film. Katz’s would continue to make the best pastrami and corned beef in the city, by a longshot.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Stoner superstar Seth Rogen and potty mouth king Kevin Smith together, with a cast plucked from Apatow, Smith and Office alumni, “Mac guy” Justin Long, ubiqui-cutey Elizabeth Banks, and a plot about two slacker roomies forced to make a porno to pay the rent? Sounds like it should be awesome. And it is for the first two acts, then it sort of peters out- pun intended- but still satisfies. It’s popular to bash Smith, and this isn’t his best movie, but it’s pretty fucking funny for a good while.

I have a love/hate relationship with Kevin Smith’s movies. I loved Clerks, with its unashamed profanity and familiar Jersey slacker culture, but since then Jay & Silent Bob got shoehorned in everything; the movies were good but juvenile, and while I like them I didn’t think he really grew much until Clerks 2 came along. Zack and Miri Make a Porno does feel like Smith meets Apatow, but that’s mostly due to Rogen’s involvement; Banks may not be the best-written female character, but she’s miles ahead of Smith’s usual. So give Z&M a try.

Rogen plays his usual stoner everynerd, a barista at Bean ‘n Gone; he’s Zack, and Miri is Elizabeth Banks (W., The Baxter, The 40-Year Old Virgin) his slacker roommate who’s been buds with him since the first grade. We meet them as they brave the bitter Pittsburgh cold, going to work at their minimum-wage jobs to pay a mountainous stack of bills. Soon the power is turned off, the water too, because Zack would rather buy skates and fleshlights than pay the rent. Actually it’s to Rogen’s credit that he lays on enough charm for us not to wonder why Miri doesn’t just boot his ass out, but I didn’t even think about that until days later.

Zack’s coffee shop pals include the crabby Delaney (Craig Robinson, “The Office” janitor and Apatow alumn) who’s constantly whispering Zen-like epiphanies about the misery of marriage, and the furious boss Mr. Surya (Gerry Bednob, The 40-Year Old Virgin) who is apopleptic over their total lack of work ethic. Delaney steals every scene he’s in, and with Rogen and Banks there that’s fine work. Hopefully we’ll be seeing more of him in bigger roles, as he’s definitely got the chops to do it on his own. The other scene-stealer is Justin Long, who was tedious in Live Free or Die Hard and wore out his welcome as the Mac Guy, who plays a flaming gay porn star who shows up at Zack & Miri’s high school reunion. He chews just enough scenery and delivers Smith’s dialogue- which is a little less raunchy and more clever this time around- perfectly. When the duo decides to make porn, some Smith regulars file in but are different enough that they don’t make you roll your eyes.

Jason Mewes is back, this time as a crew-cutted porn star wanna-be, and he’s crafted a character far enough from “Jay” to be funny without feeling old; Jeff Anderson (Randall from Clerks) is back as the unlikely cameraman, and wisely plays the straight man. At least Smith doesn’t shit on his old friends. Delaney is on board as the producer, with his hard-earned HDTV money; after a somewhat lame montage of possible porn movie names they decide upon “Star Whores,” and I worried that I’d be watching an hour of lame Star Wars jokes. Smith wisely plays this for a brief laugh before taking the script elsewhere, and manages to craft a hilarious, raunchy second act as they film their ultra-low budget epic.

For a movie about a porno, it manages to be somewhat less gross than Clerks 2 except for one scene, and for being slapped with NC-17 twice it only uses bouncing boobs and dangling wangs purely for comedic value. While the humor is definitely on the raunchy side, this is a lighter side of Smith; he’s learned that shock value is difficult to come by, but he still manages to slip a good one in there. Traci Lords and Katie Morgan are on board for the porn talent, but we never catch the camera leering, which is a good thing. For one lesson the movie will teach you is that there is no free titty. Smith earns his titty with this funny movie, which may not be his best, but is a fresh addition to his portfolio and a sign that he shouldn’t be written off as an aging, potty-mouthed Star Wars & comic book nerd with a camera just yet.

And I’m glad that bad boy Jay Mewes is clean again. He’s from my part of Jersey and I first met him stoned out of his mind, and know a lot of his old crew never made it out of heroin hell. Others have cleaned up their act quicker than he has, but the Hollywood temptations of easy access to your poison has to be hard. He plays his wanna-be porn star like a German-accented crazy nudist and is hard to recognize as “Jay,” which is a good thing. Apparently the “accent” is a lisp from dental surgery according to IMDb, but it’s still funny.

3 out of 4 titties. (Shave and a haircut, two bits- I saw a lady with three tits)

The Tao of Steve

Although it came out in 2000, The Tao of Steve is a ’90s movie at heart, and I imagine the director and screenwriters tried to make it for a long time, without updating anything. We meet Dex (Donal Logue, Zodiac), a chubby bearded guy in a Hawaiian shirt at his 10th college reunion. He’s a fat stoner slacker, predating the current run of stoner comedies, and an unlikely Lothario. How does Dex get laid so much? By using his philosophy of getting chicks, the Tao of Steve. We’ll explain that later. It doesn’t help the story that we’re introduced to him being shot down by Syd (Greer Goodman, who co-wrote), making his seductive powers seem like wishful thinking.
The movie rides on whaleback, on the character of Dex, played naturally by Logue. He’s a kindergarten teacher when he’s not toking, or playing frisbee golf, pool or poker with his slacker buddies. He’s got an endearing loser quality, and captures that laid back fat guy who wants to be liked archetype perfectly. He teaches the kids how to play poker. He’s about as believable a teacher as Arnold Schwarzenegger was in Kindergarten Cop, but he’s fun to watch. And that saves the film, because the rest of the characters aren’t great company, really.

Take Dave for example (played by now-unemployed Kimo Williams, Buffalo Soldiers). He’s the new dog in Dex’s slacker pack, and serves only to give him someone to explain his foolproof seductive philosophy to. So, what’s the Tao of Steve? First of all, a “Steve” is that cool guy who gets the girls without seemingly even trying. Like Steve McQueen, or Steve Austin, or Steve McGarrett. In case you forgot that Steve Austin was “The Six Million Dollar Man,” the slackers re-enact the opening credits of the show, and dumbo Dave says “oh yeah, the 6 million dollar man!” in case you still don’t get it. And if you don’t remember Steve McGarrett was Jack Lord’s character in “Hawaii Five-O,” they helpfully play the theme on the soundtrack while the guys drum it out on the poker table. Yeah, it’s one of those movies, like Reality Bites, which revels in its writers nostalgic glee and tries to force it down our throats. So how do you get to be a Steve?

1. Eliminate your desires. Very Buddhist. In other words, don’t be a horndog; duh.
2. Be excellent in their presence (and not like Bill & Ted). Show off effortlessly in some manner. Dex shows how good he is with kids, mostly.
3. Withdraw. Play hard to get.

#3 is further illustrated by the mantra that men & women both want sex, but gals want it 15 minutes after men, so “if you hold out for 20 she’ll be chasing you for 5.”

The closest thing resembling another character is Syd, who has been with Dex but he doesn’t remember it, being a stoner and all. He gets blindsided by her, probably because she’s from his past before he came up with his philosophy. He loses his cool around her. She begins unraveling the weakness behind his conquest mentality, the Casanova archetype. Every narcissist is hiding a core of self-loathing, and as the film succinctly puts it: “Don Juan slept with 1,000 women because he was afraid of being unloved by one.”

The revelations come on a very funny camping trip where Dex destroys his tent in a flailing attempt to kill a spider, and has to share tents with Syd, who warns him that if any part of him touches her, she has a knife. By the end of their trip, he’s lost his cool and finds that he doesn’t need the Tao to get with Syd, once she starts seeing the real him beneath the Steve. Being a rom-com, they have to have a break-up of sorts when dumbass Dave blurts out Dex’s seductive schemes, but you know they’ll get back together. The story handles this well, without being too cute.

The episodic romance is the weak point in between amusing bits where Logue builds the Dex character, based on co-writer Duncan North, a fat kindergarten teacher who banged a few of Jenniphr (spell your name right, for fuck’s sake) Goodman’s pals and related his game plan to her. Dex owes a lot to The Big Lebowski, another stoner slacker who liked to live in a bathrobe and would probably feed a dog whipped cream out of the spray can, too. There’s a lot of clever dialogue that doesn’t seem unnatural, and keeps a mild comedic energy throughout the film, but the movie is carried by this Falstaffian fatboy stoner character, spouting Taoist epiphanies and teaching young children to play poker.
As far as rom-coms go, it’s above average and has more to interest guys than most films of the genre, but it’s horribly dated by trying to jumpstart ’70s nostalgia, and has the same ’90s slacker feel of forgettable films like Reality Bites. After a little research, I found that the idea for the film came in the mid-90s and they began writing it in 1996, so that’s why it feels like a ’90s film. I think the only film of this type that is still watchable is Swingers, because while it does play into the short-lived swing dancing revival of the ’90s, its cultural references are less obnoxious and are done on a filmmaking level, as the director mimics the characters favorite film scenes instead of just throwing stuff on the soundtrack. The Tao of Steve is decent rom-com fare and like The Baxter, About a Boy and the ultimate male-oriented romantic comedy The Apartment, a guy can watch it with his girlfriend without wanting to claw his eyes out.