All About a Character Who Is Not Me
Crossword people are not often portrayed in movies. "The Story of Us" (1999) starred Michelle Pfeiffer as a crossword constructor, which already doesn't sound too realistic (Michelle Pfeiffer playing any professional other than model/actress/glamorous person doesn't sound too realistic). I never saw it.
News leaked early that Sandra Bullock (an actress whose movies I've generally liked) was working on a crossword-related project. While certainly attractive, Bullock has more of a girl-next-door vibe so this seemed like it might be OK. Even better, she met with Will Shortz for background. The report came back that she was pleasant, articulate and intelligent - and had even seen and loved "Wordplay."
A few of us were contacted by the art department and given disposable cameras to photograph our homes to give them an idea how a crossword person lives. I took pictures of my messy place, complete with piles of books (including "How to Conquer Clutter") and stuffed lambs. That was in June, 2007, and I heard nothing after that. The movie was originally scheduled for March, 2009 release, but got pushed back. I saw the trailer, which said nothing about crosswords - but showed the character carrying a familiar-looking blue umbrella. Other than that, she looked nothing like me: ragged blond hairdo, miniskirt, and red go-go boots. The plot summary did not bode well: Quirky, eccentric crossword writer obsessively follows a news cameraman across the country. Huh?
"All About Steve" finally came out Friday. Reviews were abysmal, with Rotten Tomatoes at ZERO percent favorable after 34 reviews, settling in at 5% to date (by contrast "Wordplay" had 95%, RT's best-rated documentary of 2006). Still, I had to see it. I have $6 prepaid AMC coupons good after the first 2 weeks, but wasn't sure this would last that long. I was able to get up early enough opening day to make a 10:35am showing, when AMC costs $6. The theater was surprisingly non-empty, and I settled in to watch.
The crossword titles were cute. But then... Ouch! The umbrella is a minor plot point (Steve loans it to her, and she carries it around for the rest of the movie), and the character Mary has a lot of books, but any resemblance to me ends there (well, she does talk to her hamster, but he's not a stuffed lamb). Which is good, because Mary is extremely annoying. The filmmakers' idea of a smart person is one who spouts unnecessary long words and trivia facts nonstop, and has no sense of what's socially appropriate. Crossword homilies are awkwardly interspersed (though it's cool that Manny Nosowsky and Will are quoted by name). The plot: Mary essentially stalks Steve and follows him from story to story, is egged on by his anchor colleague, and then becomes part of the news herself when (while running and waving to Steve) she falls into the same mine as some deaf children (I'd say SPOILER ALERT, but does anyone really care?). Along the way she meets some kindred spirits, including a former physicist who carves apples (DJ Qualls, pretty cute actually). This is self-conscious quirkiness with a capital Q (someone's favorite letter! No, that wasn't in this movie).
There's a disclaimer at the end that the characters are not based on anyone living or dead. I saw an interview where Bullock said she partially based Mary on a 3 1/2 year-old girl. I don't know any crossword constructor or solver who is anything like this character. At least we hope we aren't!
I found a copy of the script
, which differs from the final movie but gives a flavor of some of the awful dialogue.
The first weekend box office came to $13.9 million, more than "Wordplay" took in its entire summer-fall 2006 run ($3.1 million).