When did you last see a romantic comedy in which the man and the woman discussed Kierkegaard--and knew what they were talking about? Better yet, when did you see a leading man who's about 100 pounds overweight and is nevertheless a lady-killer?
Such a film is the sparkling and irresistible "The Tao of Steve," a movie that's as unafraid of proclaiming its smarts as it is of wearing its heart on its sleeve. It's a terrific debut for director Jenniphr Goodman, who wrote the script with Duncan North--the true-life inspiration for the film's hero--and Greer Goodman, the director's sister and the film's leading lady.
Donal Logue's Dex is a handsome, redheaded but exceedingly rotund guy in his early 30s who attends his 10-year college reunion only to be reminded of how far he has let himself go since he was the golden boy of his class.
He's about to cut out of this humiliating gathering when he crosses paths with the stunning Syd (Greer Goodman), a classmate with whom he had once been involved but does not even remember.
Syd has returned home, to Santa Fe, N.M., to design the sets for the city's famed opera company and is staying with old friends. Because her motorcycle goes on the blink she winds up sharing a truck with Dex, a part-time kindergarten teacher who passes himself off as a "forensic anthropologist" and lives in a house on the outskirts of town with a bunch of buddies.
Dex is a brilliant, self-indulgent layabout who easily rationalizes his lack of ambition. Drawing from Lao-tzu, Heidegger and Groucho Marx, he has developed a sure-fire theory of dating, which he dubs "the Tao of Steve" in honor of Steve McQueen, who never had to chase after women but always wound up with the girl. An indefatigable womanizer currently having an affair with a married woman (Ayelet Kaznelson), Dex is forever reminding his pals that "We pursue that which retreats from us."
Used to playing hard-to-get, he's now faced with Syd playing hard-to-get with him. When she points out that Don Giovanni seduced legions of women in fear of being rejected by the one he truly wanted, her words hit home with Dex perhaps more strongly than she intended.
For Syd, the problem with Dex is not that he is overweight, but that she's wary of a man so into scoring with women. How is she to know if such a man is capable of sincerely falling in love?
The filmmakers make getting to the answers to these questions much fun, for "The Tao of Steve" bristles with sophisticated wit and humor.
Logue's Dex lights up the screen as a free-spirited rogue of infinite charm--and cunning--who unexpectedly discovers how vulnerable he really is. Goodman is also a natural in front of a camera, and her Syd is a self-possessed young woman completely capable of parrying with Dex.
"The Tao of Steve" proceeds as a series of skirmishes between the two, delighting us with the artfulness and wisdom with which the filmmakers play out this duel. Inevitably, the film has to do with Dex's need to grow up if he is ever going to experience true love, but the filmmakers wisely leave this familiar concern strictly implicit.
"The Tao of Steve" is a constant, idiosyncratic pleasure that leaves us eager to see what the Goodmans and Logue will do next. As for North, he has said making the film "was like $2 million dollars' worth of therapy."
The Tao of Steve, 2000. R, for language and some drug use. A Sony Pictures Classics release of a Good Machine production. Director Jenniphr Goodman. Producer Anthony Bregman. Executive producer Ted Hope. Screenplay by Duncan North, Greer Goodman and Jenniphr Goodman. Cinematographer Teodoro Maniaci. Editor Sarah Gartner. Music Joe Delia. Costumes Birgitta Bjerke. Production designer Rosario Provenza. Running time:1 hour, 43 minutes. Donal Logue as Dex. Greer Goodman as Syd. Kimo Wills as Dave. Ayelet Kaznelson as Beth.