Sometimes a safe and easy dysfunctional family comedy is exactly what you need to just turn off the mind for a couple of hours and realize that some other people’s problems are much worse than anything you have going on at the moment, and comically so. For me, the new Andrew Currie film The Steps hit that spot, hitting a bunch of cliches here and there, but in the end, having satisfying enough character drama once that you sludge through the very Canadian feeling of this film, you are compelled to see this one through just to see how everyone’s story plays out. I feel I know each of these character types in real life, which may have also lent to my interest in the story.
Andrew Currie is a filmmaker I am familiar with for at least one film, 2006’s Kelowna shot 1950s era zombie flick. I’m going to be honest and say that when this movie came out on DVD, I worked at a local video store and recommended this one incessantly. Billy Connolly as a domesticated zombie befriending a young boy and going on an adventure together? That is an amazingly original plot that demanded the recommendation to comedy and horror fans alike. Because of this, when Andrew Currie’s name flashed on the screen for The Steps, I immediately googled him to see if it was the same guy and while I felt that his new film was enjoyable, it’s far removed from the fierce originality of Fido.
The film follows two siblings, Jeff (Jason Ritter) and Marla (Emmanuelle Chriqui), both very damaged individuals in their own ways. Jeff is a New York stock broker, used to living the dignified life, but recently finds himself out of work and Marla is a wild child party girl with no care, no responsibilities and no direction. Jeff receives a phone call from his father, Ed (James Brolin) who wants him and his sister to come up to Parry Sound in Canada to meet his new wife, Sherry (Christine Lahti), and to give a special announcement he wants their support on. Baffled and confused, both siblings begrudgingly travel to their fathers new house, leaving their New York problems behind for a long weekend.
Upon arriving there’s an immediate awkward meeting as Jeff and Marla interrupt Ed and Sherry having sex. There’s no time for recovery as Sherry’s three sons also arrive at the house, Keith (Steve McCarthy), David (Benjamin Arthur) and Sam (Vinay Virmani), all from different fathers who all ran from the situation. Also in tow is David’s happy go lucky girlfriend Tammy, always bubbly and really dim witted. Once the awkward introductions are made, Ed levels the boom by telling the kids why they have been called to the house. Both Ed and Sherry’s main motivation is to successfully blend the families over the weekend in the hopes they will have a cohesive unit for when a social worker visits on the Monday to finalize an adoption of a seven year old Chinese girl. Crazy screwball plot ensues.
Now, on the outside of all of this, that plot sounds insane, nonsensical and a little bit telegraphed in parts and if I had read the synopsis prior to watching the film, probably wouldn’t have been that interested but I really didn’t mind how Currie approached this film. Every one of the kids is damaged in their own way. Jeff is guarding his unemployment secret, Marla is a hopeless drunk mess, Keith is a failed musician, David’s macho bravado seems like a complete overcompensation and Sam has some serious dad abandonment issues that kind of go in line with Jeff’s. The only people that seem to be well put together are Ed and Sherry, who find strength with each other but are regarded as crazy by all their kids. Well, except Tammy, who is just gullibly happy about everything.
This is probably a story that you can extrapolate everything that happens through to the end credits just by reading my write up of the film but I felt the ride getting there was enjoyable and I felt myself laughing quite a bit. I felt like I knew these archetypes of characters so well. I definitely know fake tough guys like David or the tortured artists akin to Keith. Are some of these relationships of characters played out? Sometimes the script can rise above this familiarity enough to give some entertainment to the viewer. It isn’t without the cliched “everything comes together in the end” but as an audience in a new age, I feel we still, at times, demand a little bit of satisfying closure and I don’t think this one makes any character betraying moves to get into that neat and clean wrap up.
Yes, I’m giving this one a favorable review but, no, I don’t think it’s anything you’ll want to go out of your way to see in limited release. If you one day come across this as a new release on Netflix, I’d say it belongs in your queue for some light viewing and Ritter and Chriqui share a nice sibling chemistry in their scenes. The biggest crime of Andrew Currie in this film is being unable to guard where this film is going but, hell, sometimes life itself is predictable and it doesn’t look like he was trying to reinvent the dysfunctional family comedy but just tell another story using it. Instead we get moments where we can look at the screen and say, even a little, “I’ve been there”. I give The Steps a three and a half out of five.