Pick-Up Artist 

The Toa of Steve will make you laugh, and possibly make you a better date.

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It’s not hard to see why this fresh, feel-good love story was a hit at last year’s Sundance Film Festival. It’s one of those amusingly benign comedies about the finer points of the mating ritual. Santa Fe native Jenniphr Goodman, who graduated with honors from the NYU Film School, offers an interesting perspective on one man’s search for romance. She patterned the film after Duncan North, a friend with whom she and her husband shared their house. North shares the screenwriting credit with Goodman and her sister, Greer.

Dex, the film’s hero, is an overweight, philosophy-spouting kindergarten teacher looking for love in Santa Fe. He’s the kind of guy who grows on you, working his charm in ways so subtle you hardly notice he’s made you take notice of him. When it comes to matters of the heart, Dex subscribes to what he calls the “Tao of Steve”—hence, the film’s title.

Steve is Steve McGarrett (Hawaii Five-0), Steve Austin (The Six Million Dollar Man) and the king of all Steves, Steve McQueen. Steve, you see, isn’t a name. It’s a state of mind. It’s all about the archetypal cool American male who never tries to impress women, but always gets the girl. And Dex’s Tao of Steve encompasses three rules:

1. Eliminate desire. If you’re just trying to get laid, women will see your game immediately.

2. Do something excellent in her presence thus demonstrating your sexual worthiness.

3. After you have eliminated desire and been excellent in her presence, retreat.

The rules of Steve have served Dex well. He’s not the kind of romantic hero we usually see onscreen, which is a large part of his charm. He may be an overweight slacker, but he’s clever and smart. He also has a past that helps in his quest for women. In high school and college, he was not only the smartest guy in his class, but also a real lady’s man. By his own admission he was a “a skinny, arrogant prick” whom the women adored. It’s only in the last 10 years that he’s gained about 200 pounds. The man of great promise has settled comfortably into a part-time job in a daycare center where the kids adore him. He spends the rest of his time getting stoned, playing Frisbee and poker, and dabbling in a lukewarm affair with a married woman. At their class reunion, they’re having a go in the library, where he whispers against a backdrop of philosophy titles, “Trust me, it’s going to be over soon.” You have to admire that kind of self-deprecation.

At the reunion, women who were once Dex’s conquests now feel compelled to comment on his girth. “You were the king. You were Elvis,” says one. “Now I’m fat Elvis,” he smiles in reply. But the weight hasn’t stood in his way. In fact, he’s used it to his advantage. “Technically, I shouldn’t be getting laid,” he tells a friend, “because I just hang out with women and don’t even try and they think, “I’m so much better looking than him and he’s not even trying to get me.’” He comes off as the ultimate non-threatening male. When one woman asks him what he looks for in women, he shrugs, “Low standards.”

At his high-school reunion, he reconnects with Syd (played by the director’s sister, Greer Goodman), a set designer for the Santa Fe Opera who had a crush on Dex in his thinner days. He’s completely forgotten a brief affair they had in college, which remains an issue with Syd. Now he takes an interest in her and tries to woo her, quoting Kierkegaard, Heidegger and Lao-tzu as backup. Although his Taoism is failing him, he continues to spout its tenets to his goofy friend Dave, who is the opposite of cool. Dave’s modus operandi is to make friends with women. “Getting out of the category of friend is harder than getting out of Alcatraz,” Dex warns him. “Good-looking guys can slide by on their looks. For guys like us, we have to work hard.”

But Dex is becoming so smitten by Syd that he abandons his own code of seduction and asks her out. She turns him down, leaving him to “bask in the warm glow of her annihilating contempt.” But the intrepid Dex just keeps plugging along.

This amusing exploration of the mating ritual will find a grateful audience among young men who, like Dex and Dave, have to work harder at scoring. They may pick up some useful tips along the way, though as Dex ultimately discovers, the best tip is to throw out the rules.

His character is such a good-natured average Joe that you never see him as a plotting seducer. In fact, you’re constantly surprised by his successes. He’s a sympathetic, very likable character, and his clever philosophical ramblings are more endearing than pretentious. There’s a lot of insight here for real people. Canadian actor Donal Logue (Reindeer Games) is brilliant as the winning Dex. Greer Goodman as Syd is another completely authentic character.

Dex is an affable, well-meaning guy who discovers, “The Tao of Steve isn’t about picking up women. It’s about being the best you can be.” Though not exactly earth-shattering in its insight, The Tao of Steve is a thoroughly enjoyable romantic comedy filled with refreshingly real people (they’re even shy about getting naked in front of each other). That in itself is worth supporting.

The Tao of Steve (R) HHH Directed by Jenniphr Goodman. Starring Donal Logue and Greer Goodman.

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