Here’s all anyone needs to know about All About Steve, the surreally misconceived new Sandra Bullock vehicle: At one point, Bullock’s Manic Pixie Nightmare Woman, straining for a simile, declares that she wears lipstick-red knee-high hooker boots because they make her toes feel “like 10 friends out on a camping trip.” Steve faces a daunting challenge: How do you make a movie about a protagonist so profoundly irritating that even her loved ones barely tolerate her? And how do you avoid annoying audiences to the point of distraction in the process?
In a star turn that’s less a performance than a clattering assemblage of tics, Bullock (who also produced) plays an eccentric crossword-puzzle constructor who lives at home with her parents, produces one puzzle a week for a small newspaper, and has no friends or social skills. Her scattered monologues suggest the stream-of-consciousness rantings of a sentient encyclopedia on a crystal-meth binge; she doesn’t talk to people so much as at them. Bullock’s sad, sour little life changes when she’s fixed up on a blind date with rugged cameraman Bradley Cooper. Bullock throws herself at Cooper, but he bails when her crazy vibe becomes overbearing. Undeterred, Bullock pursues the mortified Cooper as he pursues big stories alongside his smarmy reporter boss, a perfectly typecast Thomas Haden Church.
Steve had the potential to be a sly deconstruction of romantic comedies, which have long posited stalker-type behavior as adorable, but the film isn’t interested in clever meta-commentary. It’s ultimately neither romantic comedy nor anti-romantic comedy, wandering so far off course that it’s hard to tell exactly what it is, beyond a self-infatuated quirkfest populated by three-legged babies, deaf children stuck in abandoned mines, and a potential love interest for Bullock, played by DJ Qualls, who makes apple carvings that look like celebrities’ faces. It’s a celebration of brazen nonconformity centered on an insufferable flibbertigibbet who makes the worst case for nonconformity imaginable.