I LOVE YOU, BETH COOPER (2009)
Starring Hayden Panettiere, Paul Rust, Jack T. Carpenter, Lauren London, Lauren Storm, Andrea Savage, Shawn Roberts, Jared Keeso, Brendan Penny, Marie Avgeropoulos, Josh Emerson, Pat Finn, Violet Columbus, Samm Levine, Cynthia Stevenson and Alan Ruck.
Screenplay by Larry Doyle.
Directed by Chris Columbus.
Distributed by Fox Atomic. 102 minutes. Rated PG-13.
One-time A-list director Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire, the first two Harry Potter movies) has been pretty much been missing in action since his movie version of the hit musical Rent pretty much stiffed in 2005.
Still, even looking back over some of his older light comedies (Adventures in Babysitting, Only the Lonely, Nine Months, Bicentennial Man), it’s a little odd to see him pop up again with a formulaic teen sex farce like I Love You, Beth Cooper.
It seems that Beth Cooper is supposed to be a spotlight vehicle for Disney-chick turned Heroes babe Hayden Panettiere, who plays the title character. However, she is just a supporting role – a very big one, granted, but she is not the main focus of the film.
That is Denis Cooverman, high school valedictorian and über-nerd who has nursed a secret crush on head cheerleader Beth Cooper since the seventh grade. (Frankly, the character is way too nerdy to have the cool French spelling of his name with one “N” – it should be Dennis.) Denis is played by Paul Rust, who is apparently a popular comedian (though I’ve never heard of him) and is very believable as a kid who would be given a wedgie every day of his life. He’s a little less believable as someone who might actually end up getting the girl, but this is a fantasy, we’ll go with it. He’s also not terribly believable as a high school student – he looks to be at least in his mid-late 20s.
I Love You, Beth Cooper actually starts off on a rather clever way. On graduation day, Denis decides to declare his love for the head cheerleader from the podium – knowing he would never again have a chance to get her to notice him. While he’s at it, he exorcises a few other of his own demons – suggesting the school bully may have been molested as a child, calling another popular girl a stuck up bitch, calling Beth’s roided-up ROTC boyfriend for hanging out with high school students and telling his best buddy that he should come out of the closet.
However, after this adventurous opening, it gets pretty into standard teen sex farce material very quickly.
Beth is somewhat amused and somewhat intrigued by his admission and decided to accept his invitation to a graduation party as a lark. Denis quickly learns that the idealized romantic vision of Beth couldn’t be farther from the truth – she is wild, she drinks and takes drugs, she’s a bit of a tease, a real bad driver, a provocateur and more than a little crazy sometimes. Denis and his possibly gay buddy hit the road with Beth and her two slutty friends, all the while avoiding Beth’s boyfriend – who is determined to pound the little weenie who embarrassed him in front of the school and is trying to move on his girl.
And that’s about it. Denis survives Beth’s ex-boyfriend’s constant attempts to kill him; Beth’s constantly almost killing him without even trying – through horrible driving and putting him in bad situations. Denis’ buddy insists he isn’t gay, though no one believes him. Animals attack the group for no apparent reason. Gooey, smelly substances cover the guys. It all happens, moves on and starts over in a seemingly endless cycle.
Even Panetierre’s much-vaunted nude scene (well, at least she got a lot of mileage discussing it in interviews) turns out to be a disappointment, a naked back shot and a very brief side shot of her breast which reveals almost nothing. You could probably see almost as much on Heroes.
It’s kind of nice, I suppose, that Columbus was willing to go and make a small movie with a mostly unknown cast. Other than Panettiere, the only actors here I recognized were Alan Ruck (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Spin City) and Cynthia Stevenson (Surviving Suburbia, Dead Like Me) as Denis’ parents and Samm Levine (Freaks and Geeks) as a mini-mart cashier.
Problem is downsizing isn’t necessarily a good thing in of itself. I Love You, Beth Cooper tries to toe the line between gross out gags and a rather sappy ending which is supposed to show the human side of the cheerleader – and it doesn’t really work in either mode.
The maybe-gay character’s only apparent affectation is the fact that he has an encyclopedic knowledge of old films, which he is constantly quoting and giving credits for. At one point he references the similarly-themed 1983 comedy Risky Business – also about an inexperienced high school student who gets involved with a beautiful but much worldlier girl.
That reference did this movie no favors – just reminding the audience how a movie like this could be made with imagination and intelligence. Twenty-six years later, Risky Business is still considered a classic. In twenty-six years from now, no one will remember that I Love You, Beth Cooper even exists.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2009 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: July 10, 2009.