WITH PERFECT TIMING, this amiable little Sundance favorite arrives here just as Seattle Weekly is examining why guys are increasingly having issues with their bodies. (See feature story, page 26.) Tao‘s friendly lunk of a hero, Dexter, is like a relaxed antithesis to this anxiety-ridden, narcissistic trend. A shabby, tubby Don Juan with a proven philosophy for landing hotties, he doesn’t care what he looks like but he knows how to listen. Women are improbably drawn to Dex as a result—thanks also to the considerable charisma of Donal Logue (the chatterbox Boston cabbie in those old MTV segments, also currently on view in The Patriot and The Opportunists).
THE TAO OF STEVE
directed by Jenniphr Goodman
with Donal Logue and Greer Goodman
opens August 11 at Harvard Exit
We meet Dex at his 10th college reunion in Santa Fe, where he still lives the slacker postgrad existence, toking up in the morning before his job as a preschool teacher and sharing a house with a bunch of other Frisbee golf-playing guys. Mingling with old classmates, he spies Syd (Greer Goodman), a babe of a set designer whose controlled, high-achiever demeanor couldn’t be more of a contrast with disheveled Dex. There’s your plot, in the venerable tradition of romantic comedy: Mismatched opposites fall for each other, dragging their heels all the way. Naturally rivals, misunderstandings, setbacks, and a few sad moments come with the package—but you know where things are headed. The fresh, enjoyable parts are sage Dexter’s philosophy and the desert college-town setting, where Tibetan prayer flags hang over the adobe doorways. In its way, Tao is a Y2K update on the old Rock Hudson-Doris Day comedies of the ’50s—with sex, drugs, and Kierkegaard thrown into the mix.
Throughout the picture, Zen master Dex amusingly lectures a young housemate about the tao of Steve—which includes cultivating a Steve McQueen-like coolness. “You must learn to eliminate your desire,” Dex opines. That’s only rule one, and the fun of Tao is being a fellow pupil to his lessons. It’s also a terrific and natural date film that may have many distaff viewers nudging their companions in the ribs: See, see, you could learn from this guy!
Smitten with Syd, however, Dex does finally question his own methods and behavior, forcing a rather predictable identity crisis and resolution. The briskly engaging Tao is also too perky and precious in places, with a relentlessly upbeat score, but those are minor quibbles in an otherwise winningly likeable movie.
IN REAL LIFE, Tao‘s cowriter Duncan North was the inspiration for Dex, and he appeared with director Jenniphr Goodman at SIFF in June. “It started with us talking about men and women,” he explains of the script’s origin, describing how subsequent story conferences addressed issues of noncommunication between the sexes. What Goodman calls “the chasm” between the two is precisely where Dex shows his skills. “He’s self-absorbed,” says North, “and at the same time . . .”
“. . . a sensitive listener,” Goodman says, finishing the thought.
For North, bridging the gap between the sexes requires men to realize that “the shortest distance between two points is not a straight line in relationships.” Both he and Goodman emphasize the often circuitous conversational path of seduction—as opposed to the traditional linear male march to conquest—as being Dex’s real lesson. “It tells you what women are looking for,” says North of his decidedly unbuffed, unsculpted, unkempt onscreen double. “Most men think conversation is just dead time between sex and football,” he continues. “Most guys see the complexity of women as this big pain in the ass thing, whereas for Dex, the fact that women are complex is what makes his life possible.”