To tell the truth, I really like romantic comedies. I don’t like schmaltzy gestures of over-affection and that’s why I watch them, I’m waiting to find a few minutes of real emotion and original intent. It’s more fun to groan through hours of Matthew McConaughey’s abs looking for a stimulating bit of dialogue than it is to always be crying through the Monsoon Weddings of the world. I get my daily dose of depressing information on my commute into work from NPR each morning, thank you very much. By the time it hits 8 p.m. on a weekday I’ve absorbed my fill of bad news and I decree it happy time (hour).
Not that romantic comedies always live up to their designation, oftentimes, they are neither romantic nor are they comedies. Case in point, The Tao of Steve (2000). The Tao of Steve is on another level, if you will, than the common ‘schlub mismatched with a beautiful woman’ comedy team/unlikely love interest found in many rom-coms. The Tao of Steve holds itself to the higher purpose of spouting off philosophical non-sequiturs throughout the film under the pretense of the “Steve” philosophy of picking up women.
The “Steve” philosophy is what Dex (Donal Logue) uses to bed women who are lightyears out of his league. Anyone who has made it past the zygote stage has most likely had this discussion with their friends. In sum, the “Tao of Steve” is named after sultans of cool like Steve McQueen, Steve McGarrett, and Steve Austin. To become fully actualized in the realm of Steve, one needs to:
- Eliminate your desire
- Be excellent in her presence
By spending just a few months in the dating pool one should be able to crack this code themselves. Allow me to translate the purposely philosophically-obtuse steps into current rhetoric.
Sex should not be the abiding reason you are spending time with this person. “Women can smell an agenda a mile away.”
Showcase your talents when you are together. But try to do this discreetly. A woman will be impressed if you can hold your own at a game of Cricket at the bar, but she doesn’t need an unabridged history of the game.
Don’t incessantly call or pester her at the beginning of the relationship. The idea of the “3-day Rule” has been beat to death sufficiently for these purposes.
The rules available for men to decipher the wiles of the woman are legion. Thank god the Goodman sisters (writer and director Jenniphr and writer and lead actress, Greer Goodman) opt to shrink them down to three. In any event, once one can expertly achieve each of the 3 steps you shall be dubbed a “Steve” in the grand tradition of imaginary men of that name, rather than a “Stu” which is basically your Average Frustrated Chump.
The Tao of Steve is about a fat slacker (Donal Logue – appropriately omitting the final “d” on Donald to further stress the film’s inherent slackerness) who, despite being morbidly obese, pretentiously spouting off about Kierkegaard, and living in a flophouse with his 3 closest mid-thirties friends, can score any chick he likes, all thanks to the Tao of Steve lifestyle he has created. He has, in fact, bagged so many chicks that when he runs into a former classmate and one-night stand (Syd) at his college’s reunion HE CAN’T EVEN REMEMBER HER. Hilarious.
Be still the hearts of fat losers everywhere.
Dex drops some knowledge on his homies after playing a round of disc golf with them (a titillating scene which included copious amounts of flannel, tie-dye, and too much leg from Mr. Logue ) about how girls will go for you if you act uninterested. Yeah, so all you guys in your parents’ basements playing WoW, just keep on ignoring the ladies and soon they’ll be knocking down your doors. Or, you could visit Datecraft,the WoW dating site, whatevs.
One of his other friends chimes in with the timeless Groucho Marx quote that, “If you tell a woman she can’t join your club, she’ll do pretty much anything to get in.” Yeah, we clamored pretty hard to join your “careers outside the home” club and your “voting” club. Marx also gave us the gem, “You’re only as old as the woman you feel.” Now that’s a prescription for a pedophilia charge if I’ve ever heard one.
Dex is apparently the wise old sage of the group and spends most of his time being the pedantic oracle to whom they turn for advice. As the viewer, you may find the constant mini-lessons in being and nothingness a bit maddening. As if his solipsistic drivel wasn’t enough to establish his character, the Greers add in many panned shots of Dex’s bookcase just bulging full of first year philosophy texts. If any of the concepts in this movie are unfamiliar then I suggest you spend a day in a coffee shop near a college. Go about 2 months into the current semester and you’ll be all caught up to speed.
So, anyway girls, you know how you feel when you run into a an old lover at a reunion and he completely blanks on who you are even though you sat next to him in class for ½ a year and even spent one verrry special evening with him? What’s the next step in your relationship? YOU AGREE TO SHARE RIDES WITH HIM FOR A WEEK! Right, you do him a big favor.
Just to clarify, Syd is visiting Santa Fe for a few weeks in the context of her job as a set designer. She is working at the Santa Fe Opera for the opening of Don Giovanni Tenorio. Syd makes the ill-advised decision to be the drummer in the house band at the reunion and so catches the eye of our own Don Juan, Dex. Apparently, Dex’s short-term memory can retain about T-minus 5 years and so he has totally forgotten who Syd is. This is expected, as Dex’s attention span is similar to America’s as a whole. I noticed this recently, as people fall all over themselves when they hear about Elvis Costello, who made way more bigoted comments than Juan Williams.
Back to this tedious story. Now, I am unfamiliar with an employer who would make someone who lives in NY fly across the country for work and then neglect to furnish them with their own rental car. Maybe things were different back in wacky ol’ 2000. God, how many more minutes of patchy beard must I endure?
The first night after their forced shared riding situation, Dex tries to win Syd’s heart with a dinner of Mango Mahi Mahi and soundtrack provided by The Bugaloos (Syd and Dex had bonded over their shared love of the Bugaloos the previous day – how unique! They both watched the same god-awful children’s show growing up. Anyway, everyone knows H.R. Pufnstuf is where it’s at for obscure sing-a-long kids shows from ancient history). However. Syd still takes off for the night with Jeremy, the only character that didn’t fall from the ugly tree, to hear a friend’s band play.
Dex is not shut down, though. No worries, he has Syd’s full attention the next morning when she comes by to pick him up for work. Just to further drive home the point that he is a lazy motherfucker, Dex answers the door in his robe, takes a massive bong toke, and announces that he only works part-time.We are now 20 minutes into the movie. Dex has fully established his limited potential, “I smoke pot for breakfast. Hurrr durrr. Doing stuff is overrated. Like, Hitler? He did a lot. But don’t we all just wish he would have stayed home and gotten stoned?” Cue bong toke. How can Syd withstand this powerhouse of Steve McQueen-esque cool, this big, lovable (read: fat) anti-hero?
Dex’s relentless insertion into Syd’s life finally lands him a date. They have to drive one of Dex’s students home from school so they swing by Baskin Robbins and pick up some ice cream cones on the way home.OF COURSE Syd has forgotten some stuff at work and now they need to make one last stop before dropping Dex at home. According to Dex’s very intricate system for dismantling the female psyche, this means that she has the hots for him and wants to show off her sweetass job as set designer at the opera house.
This scene basically just sets the stage for the most memorable quote of the movie (courtesy of Syd), “Don Giovanni slept with thousands of women because he was afraid he wouldn’t be loved by one.” Aw, what a poetic way to say he was an insecure asshole.
Syd offers this pearl of wisdom after schooling Dex on Kierkegaard and his obsession with Don Giovanni. Dex is bested in the (shudder), battle of the intellects, which further endears Syd to him. This interaction is followed with a weak, weak segue into a date invite to a pool party from Dex which is promptly crushed to a powder under the heel of Syd’s hiking boot.
So Dex gets all “Steve” about the rejection which translates to ignoring her and fucking his friend’s wife again. Next time he runs into Syd at friend Rick’s (David Aaron Baker) house he flirts with her using junior-high era tactics by teasing her about Jeremy, whom she is taking to the opening night of the opera (“He’s not my boyfriend!” she indignantly screeches, like a Skeksi and he informs her that Jeremy is only submitting himself to the torture of the opera because he likes her.
So she huffs off. What next, I am sure you are dying to know. Next…….she leaves because the opera has opened so they both go on with their lives on opposite ends of the country? BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IN REAL LIFE, especially real life before social networking sites. Well, maybe Friendster was up and running but I think at that time adults did not deign to use it.
Of course, Syd takes Jeremy to the opera and he falls asleep, à la Homer Simpson, thereby confirming Dex’s position that Jeremy only likes Syd and not looking at her amazing, amazing opera sets.
Meanwhile, Dex has picked up a disposable date (DD) for the pool party. We don’t find out her name, but let’s just call her Miss Plot Device. Of course, Syd decides to go to the party sans Jeremy since he is such a typical male (sigh) for wanting to bone her and pretending to like the same things she does in order to seal the deal. Apparently, according to the writers of this flick, a man can only be redeemed as a sex-addict if he intermittently spouts out bits of philosophical claptrap.
For example, Dex: “Why is it that we give the American slacker no credit but we think the Buddhist monk sitting around chanting all day is a holy man? Things always seem more spiritual and holy when they are from an exotic eastern country.”
This is apparently one of many bon mots that worm their way into Syd’s heart. She must have missed the entire grunge movie movement from the 1990s. Too bad, because she missed a much more pleasing-to-the-eye Ethan Hawke bitching about the same shit.
Back to the (sexy, sexy) pool party, Dex ditches Plot Device with the lame-ass excuse that Syd has depression and needs to talk to him. So Dex spends the remainder of the party drinking and laughing with Syd at the edge of the pool. Plot Device disappears into the deepening dusk like “angel wings as they flutter across the desert floor.”*
Instead of taking this apparent disregard for another person’s feelings as a red flag, Syd laughs gaily over the conceit. Also, Dex announces he is falling in love with Syd, after, oh, less than a month for sure. Syd calls him out on the other chicks he has been banging while in this so-called love with her and he of course does not understand why she would be upset.
This is the pivotal scene where Syd gives us the big reveal, that cherry which I have already popped, being that Dex screwed her (figuratively and literally) in college and completely forgot about it. He tries to explain it away by saying he was drunk and high most of college (who wasn’t?) and that he is “fat now and the guy who did that to you was a skinny prick” so she should give him another chance. He is about as good at apologizing as Bill Clinton.
The “romance” part comes back in when Dex fixes this beat-up old motorcycle for Syd to take to work rather than share Rick’s truck with him, and HE DOESN’T EVEN ASK FOR ANYTHING IN RETURN. No money, no nookie, not even just the tip. Just for a second. Just to see how it feels.
Syd can see Dex’s inherent goodness reflected in the polished chrome of her new hog and begrudgingly extends an offer for come along camping with her, Nick, and his girlfriend. The “comedy” part now comes in, in the form of laughing at Dex while he struggles to hike with 300 pounds on his back, plus a pack. Contrary to what writer Goodman may think, watching unathletic people sweat their way through the wilderness just makes the audience feel uncomfortable and itchy.
Now having failed at the romance and comedy, the writers attempt to tug at our heartstrings by giving Dex a heart attack in the midst of the hike. Oh, ho, ho, but once Dex gets to the doctor, they discover he just had really bad heartburn. Guess it must feel like a heart attack if your gullet is the size of a boiler. Anyhow, Dex blithely brushes off the doctor’s advice to change his lifestyle so he won’t die young and instead indulges just the “lose weight” part by going on a strictly PB&J diet (purrrfect).
He does try to better his life by breaking things off with the married woman. This happens in a driving scene uncannily similar to Tom Cruise and Camerson Diaz’s in “Vanilla Sky” but unfortunately Donal Logue doesn’t lose half his face.
Syd can now rejoice in her for-real unattached man. Sweet.Let’s have sex again and try to remember it! HIV tests for everyone!
Then the plotline starts to look up, as Syd flies back to NYC with and Dex stays in the desert with the rest of the dinosaurs. We are saved from imagining what happens when an obese person and an anorexic mate, and how annoyingly overly verbose their children will be. But then of course, Syd can’t leave it alone and calls Dex. She is leaving a message on his answering machine when he stumbles out from behind some scenery at the NYC Opera because an opera house in New York City would let some bumbling guy in off the street and into the back door. Mm-hmm, yep. And so it is done.
The viewer’s take-away from this movie is that annoying people will find each other and pair off and hopefully peck each others’ eyes and tongues out with their acerbic unending wit, thereby leaving the rest of us in peace. It is called natural selection and it would do us well to just let it happen.
Don’t you just hate it when you can’t place somebody’s face?**
There is a multitude of things that take this movie from your standard rom-com straight to male fantasyland just as much as Entourage. I won’t disparage the golden calf of Entourage seeing as every dude I know loves it either outright or secretly but in general I want to say that The Tao of Steve validates men in their quest to find obscure quotes with which to pepper their monologues in order to dominate the weak minds of women. It also reinforces the idea of “charisma” and how if you have enough of it, you could charisma the socks off a chick without indulging in the bourgeoisie ideals of good diet and exercise. Also, there should be a quota for how many times one film can reference Taoism when their audience will most likely have a passing-at-best understanding of the topic.
I will applaud this movie for reminding the hoi polloi how to pronounce the word “tao” however. So there’s that.
*I’m sorry, but there is a wealth of maudlin poetry about the desert on the web. I’m not crediting the author of that out of mercy, but if she contacts me, I’ll change it.
**This is Donal Logue as “Jimmy the Cab Driver” a short promo bit he did on MTV back in the day. Shout-out to all my MTV babies, late 80s early 90s.
Written by Kelli