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Everything's Coming Up Steve
by Denise DuVernay

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I don't need you. I can do the act alone. I often do.

"I don't need you. I can do the act alone. I often do."
Important moments in our lives become imprinted. For example, I remember with distinct clarity where I was when I read those books of profound importance to me. Or in which theatre and with whom I saw the most impactful movies. The stunning Colorado scenery out the window of the family car when my parents argued so harshly I thought I'd soon be asked to choose. (Oh, they're fine, btw; they just had their 45th anniversary). And every minute detail, every smell, sound and sensation, surrounding the events of what I believe was my first (and, God willing, only) panic attack.

This image may as well be surrounded by amber: I can clearly envision myself lying on the floor, circa 1981: light blue corduroys that match the living room carpet, my adored "Everything boys can do girls can do better" t-shirt (the twerps' version of the famous "A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle" slogan, albeit less true), and a pair of bright orange headphones: I was listening to Steve Martin's A Wild and Crazy Guy. This was how I spent the hours between school and supper, originally probably because I was defeated by my brother in the television wars, but soon thereafter out of choice. I had the album memorized, but did I get it? Probably not much of it. I'm sure I didn't discover Steve straightaway. My parents and sibs had a fair bit of vinyl, and I liked Queen, The Smothers Brothers (knowing what I know now, I can't help but wonder what my parents were doing with a Smothers Brothers album, and I certainly didn't know Steve worked on the show). There was a Pat Benatar album and I sang "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad" as plaintively as I could muster to give Meat Loaf a run for his money. I'm sure we were both convincing.

And as for the big books: Deenie, sitting against my favorite reading tree, front yard, childhood home in Minnesota. Jane Eyre, ditto. And then in high school, and then in college, and then again in grad school, and then again a couple years ago when I taught it to unwilling freshmen. Breakfast of Champions, sprawled on the grass in The Mall, East Bank, University of Minnesota. Shopgirl, third Tallahassee bedroom, the townhouse off the canopy road with the sadistic spider that messed with my mind for weeks, disappearing during my hunts to find a suitable weapon. Why I didn't just leave a shoe in the bathroom, I'll never understand.

CAMELOT was my first live, professional production, Ordway Theatre, St. Paul. I think I was around 10. It was a rare, girls-only outing: my mom, my older sister, and me.

The movies:
HAROLD AND MAUDE, my then-boyfriend's double wide on the property of the rancher he worked for: housing was included with his job
I don't need you. I can do the act alone. I often do.
tending to the horses. I was in 11th grade. I eventually ditched the boyfriend, but have clung to HAROLD AND MAUDE.

HANNAH AND HER SISTERS –with my parents! I remember being horrified and more than a little embarrassed.

THE JERK: I'll be honest: I don't remember a time before I'd seen THE JERK. But I remember the last time; it was probably a year and a half ago. My boyfriend was sick and trying to sleep with his head on my lap. Whatever we were watching ended, and I realized with dread that I couldn't get the remote without disturbing him. I thought I'd heard the announcer say something about JOE DIRT. As if by divine intervention, the next film was actually THE JERK, and both of us stayed put for the duration. Joe only woke up once, because I was singing along too boisterously with Steve: "I'm picking out a thermos for you . . .".

ROXANNE and ALL OF ME: when my brother was in college at the U of M and I was a 'tweener, we had many outings-- Vietnamese food on campus and several PG movies.

And why am I thinking about Steve Martin, a married and ridiculously famous man, while I have a delightful match sleeping just a staircase and a room away? Besides the fact that I always thought Steve would wait for me, he's on my mind because I cannot sleep and it's his fault. I put his book Born Standing Up down two hours ago. I know Steve Martin better now than ever before. It's now 4:26 a.m., central time, and I can't help but wonder if the universe got it wrong on this one. Why was he born in Waco, Texas, in the forties, while I was born in Coon Rapids, Minnesota, in the seventies? It just does not compute. But to risk sounding like a Pollyanna, I'm just happy with what I do have: his films, his SNL appearances, his albums, and his books.

You'll love Born Standing Up, and now I'm picking out some movies for you:

THE JERK (1979)
As a child, something clicked with me in Navin's naiveté, his colorblindness before the term became a cliché. I'm confused on why I don't remember a time before THE JERK, as I'm sure my parents didn't take me to see it in the theatre when I was 6. Maybe I remember my brother quoting it until I actually saw it on TV or the VCR. Hmm. Steve mentions in his new book that he was disappointed that during the "Tonight You Belong to Me" scene, moviegoers hit the snack bar. That makes me sad, too, as it's my third favorite part of the movie.

¡THREE AMIGOS! (1986)
Parody, Chevy Chase, and hijinks! Hilarity ensues!

PLANES, TRAINS, AND AUTOMOBILES (1987)
Hilarity ensues again in this John Hughes classic where Steve Martin's character Neil, an ad exec who just wants to go home to--wait for it--Chicago, for Thanksgiving (is that too much to ask?) finds
I don't need you. I can do the act alone. I often do.
himself unable to escape a bumbling shower curtain ring salesman played by John Candy. I particularly enjoy watching Neil try to dry himself off with a small washcloth after a particularly disastrous motel shower.

L.A. STORY (1991)
Of course Steve wrote this movie. From the British accent of "that phony Winston Churchill" and the special beaches just for twirling, this film has more than enough quotable dialogue, which anyone who knows me knows I adore, and features the loveliness of Martin's own style of magical realism (the freeway sign!). An underrated classic.

LEAP OF FAITH (1992)
Steve Martin's background in magic makes him particularly believable as faith healer Jonas Nightengale in this, again, underrated drama. The film offers a terrific supporting cast including Debra Winger, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Meat Loaf (and if I could please interrupt myself here to mention how odd I find it that I haven't thought about Meat Loaf since the last time I caught FIGHT CLUB on cable, yet here he is mentioned twice in one column); together the cast and story analyze the bad idea that is blind faith and the godless trickery of those who exploit it. Along the same lines: The Simpsons episode entitled "Lisa the Skeptic."

A SIMPLE TWIST OF FATE (1994)
Another thing that Steve and I have in common is our appreciation for George Eliot. The cat in my novel is named Eliot, and I brought Middlemarch for some light reading during my stay at my parents' for Christmas. Steve wrote A SIMPLE TWIST OF FATE, inspired by George Eliot's novel, Silas Marner. It may be a little dramatic and predictable, but it's acted very well, offers a nice mesage, and is not unbearably cute.

NOVOCAINE (2001)
A biting dark comedy, filmed just a hop and a skip from me in charming Cedarburg, Wisconsin. NOVOCAINE is right up there with U TURN as a film that made me feel more and more uncomfortable and nervous as it went on. I wanted it to be over but I couldn't have left early if I tried. Probably the best movie that I'll never see again, mainly because of my irrational and unhealthy animosity towards Laura Dern.

SHOPGIRL (2005)
You know when academics and posers automatically chant that "the book was better" whenever a film is adapted from a book? Yeah, I hate that, too, even though it is usually true. It is not true in this case. The film is great, the book is great; they're just different. I was skeptical at first of the casting of Claire Danes and Jason Schwartzman, but they ended up being lovely. Danes wasn't the Mirabelle I had created in my mind, but there can be two Mirabelles. There can be infinite Mirabelles, if you think about it. The film doesn't replace the novel, nor does it try.

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Take Your Queue From Du
Every other Sunday

Semi-wholesome Midwestern girl and certified Geek Magnet offers her suggestions - often new, sometimes classic - for DVDs that are definitely queue-worthy.


Other Columns
Other columns by Denise DuVernay:

Goodbye, Du

Du Chats Movies With Comics Author Lonnie Millsap

Du Reviews ALPOCALYPSE by "Weird Al" Yankovic

Another Piece Praising BRIDESMAIDS

Friendship Films and DVD Picks for May 17

All Columns


Denise DuVernay
9 out of 10 librarians think Denise is a hoot. The 10th one couldn't corroborate because she was dead.


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If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Denise DuVernay by clicking here.


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