Friday, January 12, 2007

Movie Review: The Tao of Steve 3 1/2 Stars

Warning: The Tao of Steve is a romantic comedy. But fear not, Despisers of Nutrasweet™ Sentiment, this isn’t your typical Meg Ryan/Julia Roberts-type chick flick. Although The Tao of Steve has a heart of pure honey, it’s like that honey you buy at a farmers’ market in Santa Fe, the crystallized stuff that still has bees in it.

And the bees are full of little stingers.

Dex (Donal Logue) is a local lothario living in Santa Fe, where he works part-time as a kindergarten teacher, spending the rest of his time taking bong hits, drinking beer, playing frisbee and reading philosophy. Dex is also the unlikeliest of studs: what he lacks in motivation, he more than makes up for in girth. But there’s something about Dex that women find irresistible, something which Dex exploits to its fullest, bedding down with countless women.

Ergo, Dex is somewhat of a hero amongst his fellow slacker buddies, playing the role of philosopher king lording over his less fortunate compadres and offering sagely advice. He has distilled his theories into the “Tao of Steve,” based on the idea that all the coolest guys are named Steve: Steve McGarrett, Steve Austin, Steve McQueen.

Although he’s lived his life by following the tenants of the Tao of Steve, his faith is shaken when he meets Syd at his college ten-year-reunion. A drummer in a rock-and-roll band who also works for the Santa Fe Opera, Syd is unlike any woman Dex has ever met. He soon finds himself in love with her, but Syd reveals to him that he shamelessly turned her into a one-night stand back in college. Embarrassed, Dex attempts to better himself for her by abandoning the Tao of Steve.

That’s the essence of the love story, but one of the many reasons why The Tao of Steve transcends the genre is that the romance is only a small part of a greater whole. This is a movie about a guy who lives a very sophisticated intellectual and spiritual life, but in doing so uses his intelligence and spirituality as a shield for connecting on a romantic level.

There are some very complex issues going on in The Tao of Steve, the kind of things reserved for novels because of the daunting and near impossible tasks of expressing these conflicting and deeply personal feelings and fears on film. First time writer Duncan North (upon whom Dex is based) and debutante director Jenniphr Goodman have accomplished an extraordinary feat with this small film, even more extraordinary in that it seems quite simple. Although Dex can veer into pontification, the monologues rarely seem indie film talky, which may be due in part to a sterling performance by the gifted Donal Logue.

The Tao of Steve isn’t without faults, and thank God for that. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of perfect little romantic comedies. Love is messy, and The Tao of Steve effectively recreates some of that goo.

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