Don Giovanni —
On Friday I wrote about Fat Sex by Rebecca Jane Weinstein, an exploration of the various sexual temperaments across the spectrum of fatties. But what could serve as a rough unifying thread throughout the stories would be that self-perception shapes the perception of others. It seemed that all of the most self-conscious or self-loathing subjects of Rebecca’s book had the hardest time with their sex lives. Meanwhile, the most self-confident or self-assured people had fewer issues surrounding sex.
While sifting through these stories, and picking up this thread of perception, I was reminded of a film I absolutely adore that could have been based on Fat Sex if it weren’t already produced in 2000.
The Tao of Steve stars Donal Logue (best known as Quinn in Blade and his starring role in the sitcom “Grounded for Life”) who plays Dex, a fatty stoner living the Southwest slacker lifestyle in a slick bachelor pad.
We first meet Dex at a college class reunion where he’s shaking the bookshelves with a married woman named Beth (Ayelet Kaznelson).
As he leaves Beth in the library, Dex passes three women, who seem to be mocking him at first. Having been a superstud in college, Dex has put on the post-graduate 50 and his weight is the first thing they notice.
But that’s only until all three women admit that they’ve recently slept with him, something that changes from a source of mild embarrassment to an amusing admission of mutual attraction. On this supposed paradox rests the soul of the film: how in the hell is this guy…
… getting so much sexy time? I mean, look at him, he’s so fat and slovenly!
Dex even says as much, during a card came with his bachelor buddies. A gallumphy, snaggle-toothed new-comer, Dave, is gushing about an upcoming date and his hopes that he’ll get lucky. The regulars shake their heads… Dave’s already off to a bad start. Dave’s confused, but Dex explains. “Look at me. Look at me, okay?” Dex says, gesturing to his grotesqueness. “Technically, I shouldn’t be getting laid, but I do.”
And here we come to the secret to Dex’s success, which is also the title of the movie. Dex and his buddies are about to teach Dave the Tao of Steve, a sort of philosophical approach to seduction that’s overly simplistic, but interesting nonetheless. So, how does Dex convince women that he’s sex-worthy?
Because when I’m hanging out with a woman, that’s all I’m doing is hanging out, talking, listening. I’m not sitting there thinking about how to get in bed with her. And this completely confuses them because they’re saying “Wait a minute. I’m so much better looking than this guy. Isn’t he attracted to me?” The basic principle: We pursue that which retreats from us.
The onscreen forefathers of this philosophy include Steve McQueen (The Great Escape), Steve Austin (The Six Million Dollar Man) and Steve McGarrett (“Hawaii Five-0”). The Tao of Steve (originally developed by screenwriter Duncan North) was created to teach men to harness their inner Steveness. The opposite of a Steve (or Dave) is a Stu. And if you want to get laid, you don’t want to be a Stu.
In order to become a Steve, first you have to perfect the art of hanging out with women without wanting to sleep with them. Women can see an agenda from a mile away, explains Dex, so you have to suppress that desire.
Next, you have to prove your worthiness as a mate by being “excellent.” How you define excellence is up to you. For Dex, it’s his knowledge of philosophy, his sense of humor and the fact that he’s great with kids. In fact, he works part-time as a kindergarten teacher. So, by simply being himself (an overgrown child) and doing what he does best (being one of those awesome grownups whom kids adore), Dex makes himself more appealing toward the women who witness his gift.
Finally, once you “score” with the woman, you have to be gone. Staying the night leaves room for a relationship to grow, which is exactly what Dex and the boys do not want. They are committed bachelors who just want to fuck as many women as they possibly can. And so they followed the Tao of Steve, which teaches, in the words of Dave, “Be desireless. Be excellent. Be gone.”
To say that Dex and his friends are cads is an understatement. Although the underlying principles make sense. Women don’t respond well to desperate guys, so being an excellent person is the best way to be attractive. But as applied in the Tao, these common sense life choices are superficial at best. The suppression of desire is a facade for desire. The excellence is exploited for personal gain, which tarnishes the purity of it.
But those two pillars of the Tao aren’t inherently bad. If you’re not constantly pestering women to sleep with you and you’re being an excellent person, whatever the motivation, you’re at least doing no harm to others. Only yourself.
But “Be gone” is where the Tao does real harm. The rolling stone lifestyle may prevent moss from growing, but sometimes you may just want that special someone to take a lichen to you (sorry, couldn’t help myself).
And we see this played out through Dex, the Taoist Monk, whose path crosses with several woman, besides Beth, including a bartender/graduate student at the reunion and a fellow kindergarten teacher.
And then there’s Syd (the adorable Greer Goodman, sister of director Jenniphr Goodman).
Dex first sees Syd playing drums during the class reunion on a catchy song called “You’re So 1988.” She’s in town for the reunion and will be staying with Dex’s friends Rick (David Aaron Baker) and Maggie (Nina Jaroslaw) while she works on set design for a local opera performance. And it’s clear from the moment he meets Syd, that she’s something special. The only problem is, she remembers him, but he doesn’t remember her.
And just as Dex takes an interest in Syd, his relationship with Beth gets complicated.
The torrid affair finally catches up with him when Beth tells him that she wants to leave her husband to be with him. That’s when Dex pulls the emergency brake on the relationship to a vengeful response.
As Dex turns his attention from his three superficial relationships to Syd, he finds himself going to lengths he typically wouldn’t. For example, when Rick, Maggie and Syd tell Dex they’re going hiking in the mountains, Dex signs up, to the astonishment of his friends.
Rick: There’ll be walking.
Rick: And climbing.
Dex: I know.
Dex: Shut the fuck up.
The trip gives Dex time to get friendly with Syd, like when they stop to share an air puffer (and a cigarette) in the wilderness. The trip also leads to Dex having what he assumes is a heart attack, but which turns out to be indigestion.
The doctor warns Dex about his obesity, which leads him to go on the Peanut Butter and Jelly Diet, where he eats nothing but PB&Js. Rick scoffs at the idea:
Rick: This is almost as ridiculous as your sleeping diet.
Dex: That time I lost 30 pounds.
Rick: You also lost your job.
It’s a great moment and really captures the essence of weight loss philosophies.
I can’t help but adore this movie. For one thing, I love Dex’s style.
Plus, I’ve always thought I could pass for Dex’s brother.
I’ve written before about the importance of representation, when “Huge” was cancelled, but this was first time I saw someone in an awesome role who looked like me. And it’s a story that gave me confidence in myself at a time when I needed it most. Because in the end, Dex learns, of course, that the Tao of Steve is a hollow, shallow way to live. He also learns that being an excellent person is its own reward and that by superficially suppressing one’s desire, you can miss a chance at find something worth desiring.
I highly recommend Tao of Steve (as does Roger Ebert and David Edelstein) as a great film for fatties and for anyone else who likes a nice, fluffy romantic comedy with just a dash of intelligence. And like Dex and Syd, you won’t be able to help but fall in love.
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