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An Enlightened Choice

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 18, 2000


    'The Tao of Steve' Donal Logue has a way with the ladies in "The Tao of Steve." (Sony Pictures)
Wise, funny, sweet, sexy and kind (in that order), "The Tao of Steve" is the sort of date I'd be tempted to invite home with me – if I weren't already involved with someone who fits that description.

Which brings me to the whole point of this little Sundance charmer, a wryly satisfying story that's all about looking for love (okay, maybe not love, but at least something to quench your lust while you're shopping). It also happens to be about becoming the best person you can be while you're at it, and it isn't even an Army training film.

Meet Dex (Donal Logue): a fat, scruffy-looking, out of shape and ambitionless part-time kindergarten teacher 10 years out of college and still living in a slacker group home in Santa Fe. Aside from his day job working with kids (with whom he has an astonishing rapport, I might add), his mission in life consists of smoking pot and drinking, playing cards, shooting pool and tossing the Frisbee with his buds. Oh, and hitting on chicks (with whom he has the same astonishing rapport he shares with his young charges).

Not a bad deal, when you think about it. After all, as Dex points out, making something of yourself is way overrated: "Hitler did a lot," Dex muses, "and don't we all wish he had stayed home and got stoned?"

Technically, our hero acknowledges, he shouldn't be getting any action at all ("I mean, look at me!"). So what's the secret that turns this tub o' schlub into a babe magnet on the level of Steve McQueen (the "Steve" of the title and the pinnacle of laid-back machismo, as opposed to its polar opposite, the dreaded and generic "Stu")? It's a philosophy of seduction distilled from Lao Tzu, 6th-century founder of Taoism, German philosopher Martin Heidegger, Groucho Marx and years of experience in singles bars. Based on the notion that we pursue that which retreats from us, the code consists (in a nutshell) of these three rules: be desireless; be excellent; be gone.

Think about it: You never find something until you stop looking for it, do you? "Women can smell desperation," Dex says. So, he suppresses his horniness, hangs out, really listens, lays on the charm (and despite his physical imperfections, he is one charming guy), does something incredibly nice (that's the "excellent" part, and it can be tricky) and then, contrary to expectations, retreats.

And it works like a charm every time. That is, until he meets Syd (Greer Goodman), a gorgeous and brainy set designer in town for a few weeks who's staying with Dex's friends. Seemingly insusceptible to his wiles, Syd spars and dances verbally with her would-be suitor, and their reluctantly flirtatious banter – worthy of a modern-day Noel Coward – is the main source of the film's flinty, sparkling energy.

"What am I supposed to do?" bemoans Dex. "Remain celibate and bask in the glow of your annihilating contempt?" Fat (pun intended) chance.

Inspired by director Jenniphr Goodman's real-life friend Duncan North, whose legendary conquests of women apparently defy taste and logic, the character of Dex is appealing thanks largely to the Harvard-educated Logue's abundant wit and overgrown leprechaun charisma. That and the tart and surprisingly profound and airtight script, co-written by North, Goodman and her actress sister Greer.

Of course, everyone will be rooting for Dex in what amounts to a quirky, opposites-attract love story for philosophy majors, not so much for him to bag Syd (she's too canny to be bagged anyway, and Dex is as much the quarry here as she is), but for him to get to a place in his life where he can see the failings of his M.O. more clearly. It isn't that the Tao doesn't work on women – far from it. But as Dex discovers when he begins to grow up a little, it's ultimately about enlightenment, not getting laid (although that may be a fringe benefit of the search for satori).

THE TAO OF STEVE (R, 90 minutes) – Contains profanity, drug use, a right hook to the face, sex talk and sexual situations.


© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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