Posted in Film

The Sandra Bullock Files #41: All About Steve (2009)


The Sandra Bullock Files is a series that looks at the films of Oscar-winning actress Sandra Bullock, all the way from her debut in 1987, to her two major 2018 releases, Ocean’s Eight and Bird Box.

“To my husband, there’s no surprise that my work got better when I met you, because I never knew what it felt like for someone to have my back. So thank you.” — Sandra receiving her Golden Globe for The Blind Side.

In one of her many touching speeches of the 2010 awards season, Sandra ended her concise speech at the Golden Globes with two lies: one we didn’t know yet, and one we already knew. The one we didn’t know was that in March it turned out that Sandra’s husband Jesse James had been cheating on her with multiple women for many months, maybe even years, and did in fact not have her back. The one we already knew? While Sandra again proved her comedy chops in the blockbuster hit The Proposal, and stretched as a dramatic actress in her Oscar-winning role in The Blind Side, not all of her work necessarily got better after she met James. She did make Miss Congeniality 2. And Premonition. And, dear God, All About Steve.

Yes, we have arrived to the big, fat golden turkey of Sandra’s career. She’s made some bad movies, for sure — but nothing she has made comes close to the horrors of All About Steve, a so-called “comedy” that sat on the shelf for more than two years. The film ultimately came out with little fanfare and promotion on Labor Day weekend, until it quickly and quietly disappeared into oblivion. It doesn’t help that there are almost zero laughs in the film’s entire running time, or that the funniest thing about it is that lame photo-shopped DVD cover. What makes All About Steve particularly fascinating is that it’s a train-wreck that came out sandwiched between two of the biggest smash hits of her career, and one that, when Sandra received her first Oscar, came back to haunt her… when she received Worst Actress at the Razzies the very night before!

2009 was easily the most eventful, most fascinating year of Sandra’s career, with the win for both the Oscar and the Razzie in early 2010 capping off a very strange and exciting time. So did Sandra deserve the Razzie for All About Steve? She didn’t win for lack of trying. When she picked up the award the night before the Oscars, she doubted that most of the voting body had even seen All About Steve, so she brought a truck of DVDs to ensure that each member would go home and watch it — and as she said in her hilarious speech, really watch it — and that everyone would see what she was trying to do. If you actively watch All About Steve, it’s clear that Sandra is not phoning in a performance. Unlike, say, Premonition, she is actually trying in All About Steve. Unfortunately, in this case, just because she tries to create a unique character and do something different, it doesn’t necessarily mean that what appears on the screen is any good. And in the case of All About Steve, almost nothing works, including Sandra’s manic, oddball performance.

I took a friend of mine to an empty Van Nuys movie theater on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend to see Sandra’s newest effort. The second half of 2009 was magical for a Sandra fan. While two years passed after Premonition with nothing, we were suddenly inundated with three Sandra movies within five months. The Proposal delightfully surprised me, and by September some Oscar buzz had already started building for The Blind Side. I knew going into All About Steve that the reviews were bad, and that the word of mouth was even worse, but I didn’t care. If The Proposal was the appetizer and The Blind Side was the main course, I figured All About Steve would be the cheese snack in the middle, something light and forgettable. Unfortunately I knew only ten minutes into All About Steve that this was going to be one of her rougher movies. And then it only got worse.

The film tells of Mary Horowitz (Sandra), an eccentric puzzle maker who lives at home and has no friends or romantic prospects. Her parents (played by Howard Hesseman and Beth Grant, the latter having now co-starred with Sandra in three other films, including Speed) set her up on a blind date with a handsome cameraman Steve (Bradley Cooper, who shot his part in the film prior to The Hangover). But before he’s even able to drive the car down the street, she straddles him, kisses him, tries to have sex with him. He’s into it at first, but then she keeps talking and talking and talking. He gets a call about a job and takes off, glad he doesn’t have to spend another minute with her. But when Mary is let go from her job, after creating a crossword puzzle dedicated to Steve and only Steve, she takes it as a sign that she’s supposed to be with him. So, with her crazy red boots and trusty umbrella in tow, she sets off on a cross-country journey to find Steve, the man she believes she’s meant to be with. Will they meet again? Will they end up together? Do we care?

Phil Traill, who made his feature directorial debut with All About Steve, sprinkles the film with many good comedic actors, including Thomas Haden Church (who admits in the DVD behind-the-scenes that he had to be coaxed into signing on for this one), Ken Jeong, DJ Qualls, Holmes Osborne, and Keith David, among others, but the screenplay by Kim Barker leaves the director, and the cast, little to work with. The central problem with the film is that we never have any rooting interest for Mary to find Steve, or achieve her dreams, or, well, anything. She’s a kook that Sandra tries her best to bring to life, but she’s never rooted in any reality we can get behind. As much as I love Sandra, she seems ten years too old for this part, with Cooper seeming way too young for her here (in real life, they are eleven years apart). Of course, the age difference in The Proposal worked because she was the boss and Ryan Reynolds was the assistant — and the two actors actually had chemistry. Sandra and Cooper feel more like older sister and younger brother than love interests, so there’s never anything to get behind in terms of their relationship.

So when that all goes, what are you left with? If nothing else, there was an opportunity here to lampoon newsmagazine programs. But those scenes fall flat, too. Church is so naturally funny that it’s astonishing he doesn’t get a single laugh here, playing a vain on-camera news reporter. (In fact, the only laughs in all of All About Steve come from Church, not in the film, but on the DVD commentary, which is way more fun than the movie itself.) Jeong, who usually plays the strangest character in each of his films, plays the straight man in this, to dull results. And Cooper just looks lost the whole time, like he’s stumbled onto set and doesn’t know what movie he’s in. There are a few chuckles when Jeong’s character finally explodes and goes off on the other two, but at this point in the movie, we’ve lost all interest.

There’s Mary’s journey toward Steve, which is full of road-stops and new friends and tornados and long falls, but none of this material works, either. Are we supposed to be laughing when Mary and her two new buddies approach an oncoming tornado and run for the nearest shelter? What is this scene supposed to do, exactly? The effect looks great, but not a single laugh is even attempted in this scene. So what’s the point? And all the little obstacles Mary hits on her way to Steve just come off like padding to get the movie to ninety minutes, rather than authentic moments that a real person in her situation might encounter. Of course, none of this would matter if you were laughing. But you watch the film stupefied how anyone thought this would have made a good movie, let alone a watchable one. Most head-scratching of all is that not only did Sandra play the lead, but she produced the film, too. Maybe the script read better in the beginning? Maybe they made so many changes that some of the better ideas from early drafts got lost in the shuffle? Maybe Sandra just really needed a paycheck?

I was mortified by this movie in September 2009 but I came to it again, in 2014, with an open mind. Maybe five years later it would come off more as a funky, offbeat road comedy, and not be the disaster I believed it to be at that first viewing. I thought after suffering through Miss Congeniality 2 and Premonition again, in recent months, this one might actually come off better than I remembered. But nope — nothing has improved. In fact, I even came to like it less. Because no matter how insipid and clunky and longwinded the first seventy-five percent of the movie is, nothing prepares you for the finale of All About Steve.

It’s like something out of movie hell, the kind that can never be erased from your mind. A group of deaf children fall into a mine, and all but one are rescued. Steve, of course, is on the scene filming, and Mary appears, so excited to see him again that she runs toward him, doesn’t see the hole, and falls to the bottom of the mine. When she crawls out of the water that broke her fall, she discovers a little deaf girl who she needs to save, and who she apparently needs to spill all her life lessons to. This scene might have read funny on the page in an early draft, but it is positively deadly on the screen — and it goes on forever. After an hour and ten minutes of non-comedy, the movie suddenly tries to be sincere, and even profound, and fails miserably. Since Mary has no chance with Steve, there’s nowhere for the writer Barker to go, except try to prove to audiences everywhere that nut-balls like Mary Horowitz should be admired, not shunned, and should be waved around in the air like heroes. The last twenty minutes of All About Steve are so mind-numbingly absurd that it almost works as so-bad-it’s-good cinema. Almost.

I can see an alien race stumbling onto a pile of DVDs that would give them information about what the human race was like at the turn of the twenty-first century, with the first disc they put for a spin in the player being All About Steve. They just might fly right back to where they came from. All About Steve is the most embarrassing movie of Sandra’s career — and that’s a statement coming from a super fan. When I met Sandra in Santa Barbara in February 2010, I told her I loved all her movies. “Have you seen all my movies?” she quipped. “Well, All About Steve was pretty rough,” I could have said — but I didn’t want to be rude. She had such a great year in 2009 that this film seemed to only serve one purpose: to give her one more award (not the positive kind) to place on her mantle. She was the biggest movie star of that year, and even a colossal mess like All About Steve wasn’t going to change that; she’s had such a long career that one bad movie, especially one sandwiched between two good ones, won’t change a thing. Thank God for The Blind Side, and thank God for her Oscar, because we’ll likely never see a movie like All About Steve for the rest of Sandra’s career. I mean, hopefully, right? Right?

Best Scene: When the movie ends.

Best Line: “I will eat you like a mountain lion.”

Fun Facts

All About Steve was nominated for five Razzie awards, including Worst Picture, and won two: Worst Actress for Sandra, and Worst Screen Couple, for Sandra and Cooper.

The film grossed $33 million at the nationwide box office, far less than her other two 2009 releases.

To date, the last film Sandra has produced through her production company, Fortis Films.

Shot in the summer of 2007, but not released until September 2009.

When Mary is soaking in the tub, the song in the background is sung by Helga Bullock, Sandra’s mother.

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