Crossword puzzles: “The most fun a person can have without passing out,” says Mary Horowitz.
She’s the Sacramento Herald‘s cruciverbalist. That’s “crossword puzzle writer” to you and me. Miss Horowitz crafts these brainteasers weekly and relishes seeing people working them out. Though she dreams of going daily with her lexical gift, her editor would rather Mary quit working so hard and just have a good time when she goes home.
You know, make friends. Date. Be normal.
Mary hears that line—”be normal”—a lot. Probably because, well, she isn’t. Her bookish vocabulary, her proclivity for unleashing a verbal torrent of esoteric facts, her awkward social demeanor and her fire-engine-red go-go boots make Mary about as subtle as a toupee on a bowling ball.
To make matters worse, she still lives at home while her apartment is being perpetually “fumigated.” Mom and Dad know their daughter’s persona is a bit odd. Still, they do their best to set Mary up on the occasional blind date.
Most of those well-intended set ups have gone nowhere. Until now. When an attractive cable news cameraman named Steve shows up, Mary’s blahs turn to ahhs. She just knows she’s found her soul mate.
At least, that’s what she tells her hamster. Steve, however, just thinks she’s crazy. And the “All About Steve” crossword puzzle Mary pens for the next Herald hardly convinces him otherwise.
Never one to read social cues or men’s white lies, effervescent Mary pursues Steve … relentlessly. And her false hope in what she thinks is true love is cruelly spurred on by Hartman Hughes, Steve’s narcissistic newscaster partner.
As Hartman and Steve follow breaking news around the country, Mary’s never far behind … until she inadvertently turns into a headline herself.
Mary’s positive attitude never fades, regardless of how grim the circumstances might be. Whether this plucky personality trait is denial, naiveté, optimism or some mixture of the three is sometimes hard to tell.
Mr. and Mrs. Horowitz love their daughter unconditionally and hope to see her romantically fulfilled. Mary’s father says the word depression isn’t in her vocabulary.
At one of the tabloid-esque news stories that Hartman and Steve are covering (which involves a baby born with three legs), Mary is befriended by two other quirky folks, Howard and Elizabeth. They kindly agree to taxi Mary in her cross-country pursuit of Steve, developing a genuine friendship along the way.
Steve eventually recognizes Mary’s positive qualities. He says of her authenticity and bigheartedness, “She sees things that other people don’t. And she doesn’t try to be somebody that she’s not.”
[Spoiler Warning] When Mary accidentally falls into a mine shaft from which a number of children have been rescued, she’s surprised to find one little girl who was left behind. Mary tries to comfort her, and she’s determined to save her. In a rare moment of selflessness, Hartman attempts to rescue Mary by jumping into the deep hole while clinging to a fire hose … which runs out before he reaches bottom. It’s Mary’s ingenuity that eventually saves the day.
Mary, whose middle name is Magdalene, whispers a prayer before meeting with her editor. Scriptural references occasionally pepper her dialogue too. She paraphrases Jesus’ words from Luke 11:9-10, saying, “Ask and you shall receive,” and Steve responds by asking her if Jesus told her to follow him. Mary also says she is Jewish Catholic, but she attributes her “soul connection” with Steve to the Norns, or Scandinavian fates.
Steve sarcastically thanks God for a distraction that gets him out of a tricky situation. Other interjections of thanks to Him are played for laughs, such as when someone expresses gratitude for sparkling underpants.
The father of the baby with three legs says God made his daughter that way. It’s hinted that protesters supporting the baby’s “right” to keep her third leg are religiously motivated. It’s a “righteous cause,” they say. They also appropriate the melody from “Kumbaya,” singing “Save the leg” instead. Talk of miracles gets casually tossed about.
Hartman hopes there’s a “horse heaven” when he thinks a horse has been killed. He also mentions how his late father would be proud of him in heaven if he were to receive a promotion to anchorman.
Mary’s initial encounter with Steve gets sexual fast. When she notices that he’s attractive, she rushes back to her room to don different clothes (telling her hamster never to underestimate “the power of spectacular skivvies”). She reemerges with a cleavage- and bra-revealing top and a short miniskirt. She and Steve have barely gotten to his SUV—and Mary hasn’t yet said a single word—when she lunges at him. Voracious kissing, removal of shirts and his fondling of her chest (her bra is still on) ensues. Steve says he has “no problem whatsoever” with Mary’s aggressive advances, which also include her thrusting her breasts in his face.
Mary suggests that blind dates are a means for mothers to gauge their sons’ sexual preference. She decides Steve is “so not gay” based on the sports equipment and he-man messiness in the back of his SUV. She also notes that Galveston, Texas, is one of the country’s “Top 10 gay-friendly cities” and excuses men’s bad sexual behavior by saying that when men are straight, “some things can’t be helped.” Mary jokingly says that the only priority higher than fornication is a person’s job, and she references “liaisons” she’s had with men (at a “career day” for young children).
We see Mary’s bare legs covered by suds in a bathtub; afterward, she tries to slide down a banister in her towel. Other women wear short skirts and cleavage-exposing shirts. Steve zooms in on a woman’s chest with his camera during a news shoot. Hartman slaps Mary’s behind … twice.
We hear a verbal reference to premature ejaculation. A woman talks about her breasts being fondled. Someone bets her left ovary on a particular outcome. A man is said to look like a “retired porn star.” Passing reference is made to tampons.
Finally, a woman talks about playing with a vestigial penis on her leg as a child. Pushing the gag once step further, she rubs her leg against Hartman and asks if he can feel the scar where it was removed.
Steve accidentally gets yanked off a camera platform. He worries that “crazy” Mary will carve his eyes out and make him eat his body parts. He also fears she’s poisoned his food.
Some of the people who fall into the mine are shown slightly bloodied and dirty, but unhurt. News animation shows a ridiculous cartoon of a woman bumping against the shaft’s rock walls while falling and groaning “ouch.”
Mary asks a trucker if he’s ever set kittens—or humans—on fire. She also speculates about whether he’ll rape her and cut her up into tiny pieces. A tornado flings a car high into the air. People are held hostage (offscreen) by a disgruntled co-worker.
One muffled f-word. About 10 s-words. God’s name is abused 10 or so times and Jesus’ name six or seven times. We hear “a–,” “d–n,” “b–ch” and “h—.” Crude references to male and female genitalia are uttered.
A passerby sniffs glue and comments on how high he is.
When Mary speaks at a school, children treat her meanly and imply that she’s a loser.
Steve tells Mary he’d love her to join him on a news-coverage trip when nothing could be further from the truth. Confronted about the not-so-white lie, he cops this plea: “I’m a guy. We say things we don’t mean.” Hartman focuses mainly on himself and advancing his career—a tendency that frequently causes him to treat others poorly.
“We have a natural compulsion to fill empty spaces.” So says Mary Horowitz as she ponders how crossword puzzles mirror life. In a reflective moment near the movie’s conclusion, Mary explains that she tried to fill that space with Steve. But he wasn’t the answer. The solution, she opines: “Find someone as normal as you.”
That could be construed as a positive message. But it’s not quite that simple.
All About Steve ostensibly delivers a two-part moral about accepting ourselves and others, and about pressing on when we run into life’s obstacles. And I have to say, I admire Mary for her upbeat perseverance. Still, the movie has an undercurrent of derisive mockery when it comes to those who don’t fit society’s idea of normal.
Mary’s two new friends, Howard and Elizabeth, are portrayed as a bit off. Howard ekes out a living by carving celebrities’ likenesses into apples. And he drives a dilapidated AMC Gremlin, cinematic shorthand for über-geek. Howard and his ilk are mostly depicted as misfits (never mind the fact that they’re kindhearted and generous too). The “normal” people look upon them with a sort of patronizing mercy.
In an interview with Fox News, Sandra Bullock said of the film’s theme of acceptance, “It’s hard to be who you are in society. Society doesn’t want you to be who you’re supposed to be because it’s not normal. So I just want to know what the normal parameters [are] and who’s the person that drew the lines. Because we can accept someone like Mary as a child, we just don’t want accept them as an adult.”
I just wish the adults who wrote and directed All About Steve had majored more on real acceptance and less on silly stereotyping (not to mention sexual innuendo and profanity). The toupeed bowling balls of the world may unite in this flick, but are we genuinely challenged to accept them? Or is what we get here really just another form of condescension?
I’m leaning toward the latter.
Reviews from previous PluggedIn Staff members