"The Tao of Steve"

In this smart and charming indie romance, a slacker guy gets wise to the shortcomings of serial conquests.

By Jeff Stark

Published April 18, 2001 7:00PM (EDT)

"The Tao of Steve"
Directed by Jenniphr Goodman
Starring Donal Logue, Greer Goodman
Columbia TriStar; widescreen anamorphic (1.85:1 aspect ratio)
Extras: Commentary by Jenniphr Goodman, Donal Logue, Greer Goodman, Duncan North

Dex (Donal Logue) is a paunchy slacker in his early 30s. He lives in Santa Fe, N.M., and works as a part-time kindergarten teacher. For him, a full-time gig would get in the way of smoking pot, playing Frisbee golf and romancing anything with breasts. At his college reunion, Dex meets Syd (Greer Goodman), a former classmate who is in town to design some sets for the Sante Fe opera. He puts the moves on her, but she's not willing to forgive him for forgetting that the two of them had a one-night stand back in college.

Even though Dex is a bit of a schlub, he's a master charmer, a serial seducer. "I shouldn't get laid, but I do," he says.

He keeps after her. We find out through the course of the film that Dex is so successful with women because he follows the "Tao of Steve," a set of rules for picking up women named in honor of guys' guys like Steve Majors, Steve McGarrett and Steve McQueen. As Dex explains to one of his roommates, men without physical good looks have to follow a strict three-step formula: 1) Eliminate desire; you can not score if you want to score. 2) Do something excellent in her presence. 3) Retreat; women will chase what they cannot have.

"The Tao of Steve" is hardly a flawless film -- it leans too hard on pop philosophy, especially lite Eastern philosophy, and the character motivations aren't always clear -- but by the standards of contemporary romantic comedy, it's smart, witty and fresh. It lets men be dogs without slapping them for it; instead, it just shows the ultimate shortcoming of serial romance. And, as an independent film, "The Tao of Steve" does what independent films do best: Its actors look like real people and the film takes you inside real lives, into real people's homes. The film isn't beautifully shot or anything, but it's nice to see a real Santa Fe, instead of a Santa Fe that looks a lot like the deserts outside of Los Angeles.

The DVD commentary, with director Jenniphr Goodman, Logue, Greer Goodman and co-writer Duncan North, goes a long way toward explaining that verisimilitude. For starters, Dex is essentially co-writer North, who adopted the Tao of Steve when he was 16. Second, almost everyone in the film was a friend of director Goodman or her sister and co-writer Greer Goodman. Also, most of the other houses in the movie belonged to other friends; Dex's adobe house is really North's home. Third, Greer Goodman and North used to date each other.

The film, according to the director, actually started as a documentary about North and his wicked moves. It was Greer who came in to help both of them transform it into a feature. Of course this kind of family affair isn't always good for the commentary; in lesser moments, we hear far too much about how great some seemingly irrelevant friends were to the film, and Logue's sugar-rushed, family-like interruptions. North even trails far enough off track to say that seeing the film makes him miss his bong at home. At the same time, the four-person commentary does a great job of pointing out how collaborative a process filmmaking is, and how one idea can morph and transform into something else. A documentary or a one-show about North would have been seen and enjoyed by about 50 people. Here, we get a real character coming to life.

Jeff Stark

Jeff Stark is the associate editor of Salon Arts and Entertainment.

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