Today was my grandmother’s birthday, and in celebration she and my mom and I decided to dip into the realm of guilty pleasures: rich Italian food, a two layer chocolate brownie with whipped cream, and what is commonly known as a chick flick. Our cinema selection this evening was “All About Steve,” a movie none of us knew anything about beyond the fact that it starred Sandra Bullock, and she also is on our communal list of guilty pleasures.
All About Steve is really all about Mary: Mary Horowitz, a quirky cruciverbalist (the official term for people who make cross word puzzles and possibly the best job title ever) with people problems. She lives with her parents (but just while her apartment is being fumigated, of course), hasn’t been on a date in ages, and talks to her pet hamster, Carole. Steve is a camera guy for a local news team that her parents have set her up on a blind date with – a blind date she intends to cancel until her boss, rejecting her radical new cross word puzzle idea, begs her to keep it. Go out, have fun, he tells her. Enjoy being normal. “BE NORMAL,” Mary writes at the top of her puzzle draft, like copying instructions off a blackboard.
Because Mary is anything but, really. And while I’m all about a movie with a quirky heroine who saves the day by being weird, I spent most of the movie wondering if Mary were really a high-functioning Asperger’s sufferer.
I expected the traditional Weird Girl story arc: under-appreciated girl is rejected by guy until the Dramatic Plot Twist, when she must save the day by being exactly who she is, upon which event said guy realizes that who she is is in fact pretty awesome. No such luck. Mary saves the day, but doesn’t get the guy. He apologizes for bailing on their one date, lying to her, and nearly getting her killed, but there’s no big romantic moment, no sweeping Mary off her ridiculous red boots and riding away into the sunset.
“Find someone as normal as you are,” Mary advises just before the credits roll. And for her, that’s clearly not Camera Guy Steve. Personally, I think it’s the former physicist who got bored with his job and now carves apple heads for a living (Mother Theresa is his biggest seller), but in the end it doesn’t matter. She can appreciate herself just fine on her own.
So thank you, Mary Horowitz, for reminding me that even a failed quest can sometimes net you a grail.