Found Footage: “All About Steve”

all about steve

I want to tell you something, but I’m worried that you’ll judge me.  I live with a dirty, dark secret:  I love the spit out of All About Steve, also known as the film that won Sandra Bullock Worst Actress at the Razzies the night before she won the Best Actress Oscar for The Blind Side. And it’s hard to disagree with that assessment. Bullock, like almost everything else that touches the screen in All About Steve, is dreadful in every way that something can be dreadful, and in almost any other year, All About Steve would have swept the Razzies. Fortunately, more people saw Transformers: Rise of the Fallen and had to experience jive-talkin’ robots, and that film had a lot more angry votes behind it.

And it’s not for lack of trying on All About Steve’s part. The reviews for All About Steve were singularly horrible, in a way that I haven’t seen since critical dogpiling forced Ben Affleck to make Gigli into an instant punchline. Ty Burr (of the Boston Globe), who is good at this sort of thing, sums up the overwhelming consensus well. Burr wrote, “[All About Steve is] easily the worst movie of the week, month, year, and Bullock’s entire career. It is to comedy what leprosy once was to the island of Molokai: a plague best contemplated from many miles away.” For me, the scene that clinches this dubious honor is one late in the film in which a bunch of deaf kids fall into a sinkhole and the film plays it for laughs—at least, I think it does. It’s hard to know what to make of a movie that plays off its certifiably insane lead character as lovably kooky, simply a cherubic Manic Pixie Dream Girl in red disco boots.

However, here’s where I defend it. In the world, there exist different types of bad movies. The proper kind, the Freddy Got Fingereds and Human Centipedes of the world, are the kind of horrible experience you long to forget, the types of movies whose existence you will curse until your dying breath. It’s been a decade since I’ve seen the former, and I’m still pissed about it. If I saw Tom Green today, I would strongly consider fighting him over it. But Sandra Bullock, I ain’t even mad at you. All About Steve is that movie that comes along only every once in a blue moon, a movie that does everything so wrong that there’s something surreal about it. Showgirls and The Room are beloved by millions for the very same reason, because once you’ve seen them, all you can talk about is dog food, Versace and spoons, and you can’t wait to make other people watch.

The thing about All About Steve is it may be truly, utterly, unspeakably bad, but it’s bad in a way that’s both weirdly endearing and incessantly watchable. If watching good-bad movies is equivalent to car crash fixation, All About Steve is a 10,000 car pile-up. Ask yourself: Have you ever seen a romantic comedy where the heroine stalks the romantic lead? Where the climax involves a woman monologuing about her dating problems to a deaf child in the bottom of a mineshaft? Where the main character spends the entire film alienating everyone around her with her incessant chatter, but the movie asks you to empathize with her anyway?

Interestingly, that’s exactly the quality that redeems All About Steve. Although Bullock’s Mary (short for Mary Madgalene Horowitz) may be unhinged, the movie is determined that we see her not as a basket case but a Barbra Streisand figure. Screenwriter Kim Barker refuses to make fun of this woman or use her likely mental illness as the source of the film’s humor. You would never want to sit next to Mary on a long bus ride, but that doesn’t mean that she’s a bad person or unworthy of love. In fact, her Mary is by far the most well-developed character in the film, and Bradley Cooper (who the film’s title suggests that the movie is about) is barely in it. I was unsure of why she even liked this dull non-entity, a person she only knew through scaring him off after five minutes of a blind date. This generosity is one that the film extends to all of its characters, and even the villain (played by Thomas Haden Church, while sporting the worst fake tan in movie history) ends up being a pseudo-hero at the end of the film.

In the same way that the movie asks us to embrace these flawed people, I couldn’t help but follow suit for the film. Even though Transformers: Dark of the Moon may be an objectively better film than All About Steve (faint praise, I know), Transformers wasn’t made out of love. It was the second installment in what is sure to be an endless studio cash-grab venture, a movie you can tell absolutely no one involved believed in, especially Megan Fox. But this is not the case with All About Steve. Rather than pulling an Affleck and jumping ship when the reviews went sour, Sandra Bullock showed up to accept her Razzie award with a wagon filled with copies of All About Steve. Serving as a producer on the film, Bullock saw the ceremony as an opportunity to change the audience’s minds about its merits. She practically begged Razzie attendees to rewatch it and give it another chance. They probably won’t, because they were right in drubbing it, but I respect Bullock for trying. If you are going to produce one of the worst movies ever made, you should be proud of that honor.