Mary Magdalene Horowitz (Sandra Bullock) is a self-described cruciverbalist, which if you're not in the know is a crossword puzzle compiler, and she creates a weekly puzzle for a local Sacramento newspaper which is highly popular thanks to her talent with words and retaining information. Otherwise, her boss (Holmes Osborne) is keen to point out she does not have very much else in her life and suggests gently that she try to live a little, away from the word games and constant stream of facts that passes for conversation in her world. Her parents would like her to find a man to settle down with, but she is reluctant to go with their choices - mind you, beggars can't be choosers.
Sandra Bullock won the worst reviews of her career for All About Steve (its title a pun on All About Eve, for some obscure reason), a comedy that posed as a romcom but was not about to be slotted into such an easy categorisation. Alas, as just about everyone who saw this believed Sandy was trying out her attempt at rivalling Jennifer Aniston, they couldn't take a character who was intentionally annoying and downright embarrassing to watch - it was as if Mike Leigh had gone insane and decided to make a glossy confection yet could not resist bringing all his darkness and demons to the table which twisted the tale into a kind of media satire, like a comedy Ace in the Hole.
Bullock snagged the Golden Raspberry for Worst Actress in this year, going on to win the Best Actress Oscar the next day - not for All About Steve, of course, for the far less ambitious and far more safe The Blind Side, but she apparently continued to think her work here was misunderstood and would be reassessed. Naturally, this still has not been the case, yet a funny thing happened - funny peculiar and funny ha-ha, just like the film: people started to respond to it. Not your average romcom fans, but the misfits who saw in Mary something of themselves or someone they knew: not the typical romcom klutz who falls over a bit then goes off with the man of her dreams at all.
What was interesting was the hapless protagonist being absolutely wrong in getting obsessed with this news cameraman Steve, played with amusing "deer in the headlights" alarm by Bradley Cooper, and when he shows up as her blind date and she literally throws herself at him, he initially responds until a minute later a lightbulb goes off above his head and he realises, wait, maybe it's not a great idea to get involved with a woman so crazy she would eschew the restaurant meal he had planned to get down to sex in the back of his van. He pretends he has a call from the newsroom and speeds off, leaving her nothing but an umbrella and a vague promise he will possibly be back to see her one day, maybe not anytime soon but you know... Meanwhile red-booted Mary is in love (or perhaps lust) and is determined to make him her own, as if he were a new pet hamster.
Of course she has a pet hamster. Although it may not seem so on the surface given the reaction Mary garners from those around her, Kim Barker's screenplay does genuinely like this, shall we say, eccentric, and not for any saccharine cute notions of the mentally unbalanced or impaired either. We never find out if Mary has any condition, or if she's simply wacky and nerdy, but we don't need to, she is who she is as the most important thing is she finds acceptance on this road trip she undertakes to follow Steve around various ridiculous news stories, before becoming one herself. Mentioning Billy Wilder's vitriolic Ace in the Hole, while the masses were being captivated by media sensations (some more than others), this did adopt a far more sympathetic take on those who are encouraged by that media to obsess over soon-forgotten news stories as if they were more important than events that actually are important.
They are to a far wider range of people in life-changing ways at any rate, subjects of social and political upheaval, though as time has gone on the lines have been blurred between seven-day wonders and international politics, but there remained a grasp of how manipulation can concoct a confusing degree of concentration on the wrong aspects. Not to get too deep, not as deep as that hole, but Bullock, though she would never be acknowledged for it, really understood what made Mary tick (and tic), and her ultimate redemption was earned, boyfriend or not, as she found herself not part of what was deemed "normal", embracing instead whatever she was and not what society had decreed she was meant to be. Who made these rules, anyway? This was asked time and again: crosswords make Mary happy, so why should they not be her fixation in her existence, and screw whatever the snobs and tastemakers said, just because she was marching to the beat of her own drum. With a supporting cast who were equally as savvy, it must have been dismaying to see the "normals" dictate the hugely negative reaction to All About Steve - it wasn't for them, anyway. Music by Christophe Beck.