TAO OF STEVE, THE(director/writer: Jenniphr Goodman; screenwriters: Duncan North/Greer Goodman; cinematographer: Teodoro Maniaci; editor: Sarah Gartner; cast: Donal Logue (Dex), Greer Goodman (Syd), Kimo Wills (Dave), Ayelet Kaznelson (Beth), David Aaron Baker (Rick), John Hines (Ed), Nina Jaroslaw (Maggie); Runtime: 87; A Good Machine production in association with Thunderhead Prods; 2000)
“Reminded me of those old-fashioned Hollywood studio romantic/comedy films.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
“The Tao of Steve” is a likable romantic comedy about an obese common-man type who happens to have the extraordinary ability to be a successful seducer of women despite his unappealing looks. He’s convinced he is scoring women because of his philosophy. The philosophy takes in something that is Eastern, of being desire-less and without attachments. Steve adds to it an homage to three famous Steves and their masculine auras: Steve Austin from The Six Million Dollar Man, Steve Garret from Hawaii Five-O, and the late film star Steve McQueen. When this personal philosophy is working — Steve has put sex out of his mind, and the result is that women go to bed with him because of his laid-back attitude.
This humble film producing some earnest chuckles, is Jenniphr Goodman’s debut as a director. She wrote the screenplay with her sister Greer Goodman and Duncan North; Greer also plays the co-star Syd. The film is based on the real life of the obese Duncan, a friend and Santa Fe neighbor of the director’s. The film is slightly offbeat, feeling very natural and human, and offering a chance for the characters to be somewhat fleshed out as they intermingle and search for relationships. The film played well in poking holes at how insincere and ready for a downfall the main character was; but, the obvious plot and the predictable way the film was going, ultimately, defeated its Zen-like approach. It wanted too much to resolve things by contrivances instead of surrendering to a more natural ending. Yet I enjoyed the film and its loopy moments and thought it did a good job of catching the banter that goes on between the twentysomethings, struggling to make relationships and fight their fear of loneliness.
Donal Logue is charming as Dex. He was in college a fashionably thin ladies’ man, who was also arrogant. He now attends his college reunion of ten years and is a very fat, pot-smoking, part-time kindergarten teacher in Santa Fe, N.M.. He’s endowed only with his best asset from college: a sense of humor.
At the party Dex meets the blonde with a great smile, Syd, who was in his philosophy class but he can’t remember her name or that he slept with her. Dex is attracted to Syd, willing to throw aside his other conquests such as his married lover Beth (Ayelet) to be with her. But she is mad that he didn’t even recognize her and shuns him.
Syd is staying for the summer with their mutual college friends (Nina Jaroslaw & David Aaron Baker), a happily married couple, and will soon be returning to her New York job as a set designer for the opera.
Dex is living in a communal bachelor house. He is a mentor to the womanless Gomer Pyle-like, Dave (Kimo Wills), laying on him his Tao-Steve philosophy. Dex is seen interacting with his roommates in an engaging but immature way. At work he is great with the kids, dancing with them, playing games, and giving them a good teaching experience. He also has a loving relationship with his retriever dog Astral.
Philosophy comes out of Dex’s mouth as easily as bravado comes out of a braggart. But he has met his match with Syd, as the two discuss Kierkegaard’s dark secret nature and compare it with the opera Don Giovanni. The opera star we are told was a seducer of thousands of women because he was afraid that one woman wouldn’t love him, which is this film’s theme.
In his attempt to be with Syd, Dex fails to fix his motorcycle and thereby maneuvers a ride from her to work. He also gets invited on a camping trip with her and their mutual friends, even though he hates the outdoors. Dex takes advantage of the camping trip to tell her how much he cares for her, breaking all the rules of his stoic philosophy. But Syd sees through him and does not react to his Tao of Steve moves. But their relationship will prosper again, when they both recognize their faults: he’s stuck at being a seducer, a slob, lacking drive and ambition; while she seems uptight, unable to loosen up and have fun.
The joy is in watching Dex and Syd in their struggles to overcome their flaws, as they somehow change and get together. The film reminded me of those old-fashioned Hollywood studio romantic/comedy films of the ’30s and ’40s, only updated to take in the new trends and hip language used by today’s singles.
REVIEWED ON 10/7/2000 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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