All About Steve

Crimes:

  • Offering Sandra Bullock as a kooky cruciverbalist who develops an obsession with cable-news cameraman Bradley Cooper and quickly crosses the line from adorably odd to outright deranged
  • Filling the background with an assortment of traveling oddballs who show up at disasters and controversial events in order to get on camera
  • Having Thomas Haden Church play a vain TV reporter who tortures Cooper by encouraging Bullock to keep pursuing him, making her cross-country odyssey all the more pathetic

Defender: Director Phil Traill, writer Kim Barker, and stars Sandra Bullock, Thomas Haden Church, Bradley Cooper, and Ken Jeong

Tone of commentary: The gang establishes what kind of commentary track this is going to be in the opening minute, when Traill, who’s British, says “Hi, I’m Hugh Grant,” and Church introduces himself in an exaggerated “gay” voice. (Bullock: “I feel like I’m watching Milk right now.”) They’re a jocular bunch—especially Church, who hears Cooper describing how he learned to use a TV camera and deadpans, “That was the day I showed up to learn how to be pompous.” Church doesn’t know when to quit, though. When Bullock points out the beauty mark on her bare arm, he jokes that he thought it was a third nipple, then repeats the joke a few more times for emphasis. (“Thirrrrd nippllllle!”)

What went wrong: As is usually the case with unfunny comedies, the people behind All About Steve were mistakenly convinced they were really onto something. The film apparently had some odd behind-the-scenes machinations—Barker saw her script changed so that the mentally retarded children she wanted to stick in one scene became hearing-impaired children instead, and Bullock had to ask her husband Jesse James for permission to use his trademarked phrase “Born To Lose”—but mostly, everyone involved was sure from day one that they were on the right track. Bullock praises first-time feature-director Traill, saying he was “the only person who got what this film is about.” (And according to Bullock, what All About Steve is about can be explained by one of Cooper’s lines: “I’m a guy. We say things we don’t mean.”) Barker, meanwhile, sums up her contempt for her own characters when she says she got the idea for the movie while watching the Michael Jackson trial and wondering, “Don’t these people have anything better to do?”

As for what happened once filming got underway, well, judging by the commentary, the actors mainly coasted, certain their natural gifts would carry them. Watching the movie, Bullock—the movie’s producer, mind you—even gets confused about where certain scenes were shot, naming places the production never visited. (Traill: “Oh God, Sandy’s going to talk about The Proposal now.”) By the time Church gets around to doing his awkward Matthew McConaughey impression on the commentary, Traill finally offers some real insight into All About Steve, saying,  “This is exactly what it was like on-set. Imagine trying to get some work done.”

Comments on the cast: Because nearly everyone in the movie showed up for the recording session, there’s no need for them to praise each other, so instead they sigh appreciatively whenever an actor who isn’t in the room shows up onscreen, and then they append his or her best-known credit and/or character trait. (As in, “Ahh, the wonderful Howard Hesseman. WKRP.” Or, “Hey, Katy Mixon! Eastbound & Down. Look at those boobs.”) Church saves all his devotion for Cooper, whom he crushes on, tongue-in-cheek. “You look like a young Jimmy Caan,” Church says at one point, a few minutes after confessing to being turned on by a close-up of Cooper’s mouth.

Inevitable dash of pretension: Bullock half-jokingly hails one long shot of a highway as “very Terrence Malick.” And Traill at one point tries to bring the commentary back around to something more probing. After Church quips, “I heard you had to do 18 takes of Sandy writing ‘Be Normal,’ because she kept writing ‘Be Norma,’” Trail kills the mood by saying, “But that’s what the film was about! What is normal?”

Commentary in a nutshell: Traill, finally getting into the spirit of the proceedings, sarcastically says of Cooper, “We were struggling to shoot him so he looked good.” Cooper replies, “I think I look like a serial killer.” Bullock horns in with, “No, I look like a serial killer.” And then everybody laughs. And then Jeong does his Johnny Carson impression. And then everyone laughs some more. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha…

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