I Love You, Beth Cooper
Directed by Chris Columbus. Starring Hayden Panettiere, Paul Rust, Jack Carpenter, Lauren Storm, Lauren London, Shawn Roberts. (2009, PG-13, 102 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., July 17, 2009
There are so many things wrong with I Love You, Beth Cooper – and so many missed opportunities for genuine teen-comedy greatness – that it's difficult to know where to begin. But, hey, let's start with the miscasting of Rust, who, as high school übernerd and valedictorian Dennis Cooverman, sets the plot in motion when he ill advisedly rhapsodizes about his leggy blonde inamorata (Panettiere) during his sweaty, nervous commencement address. Rust has the physical and social markers of a high school pariah down pat: possessed of a schnozzle that would put both Jimmy Durante and Cyrano de Bergerac to shame, a haircut that might as well have the words "kick me" shaved into it, a fingers-on-chalkboard nasal whine, and a best friend (ably played with marginally less schtick by Carpenter) who sports the calculatedly retro fashion sense of Doonesbury circa 1974. Rust's next gig is as one of Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, and if that isn't a 180-degree résumé boomerang, I don't know what is. Here, however, his performance is something of a juggling act – the uneven script was adapted by comedian and sometime New Yorker writer Larry Doyle from his novel – and one that unfortunately has too many clichés in the air and far too alighting where they count. We're meant to feel sympathy with this geeky protagonist who is brave enough to admit his secret high school dream aloud, but Dennis is written as such a self-defeating, meek little dweeb that it's often easier to root for his archenemy, the testosterone-and-steroid-fueled jarhead Kevin (Roberts). Roberts is a veteran of Degrassi: The Next Generation as well as the past two George A. Romero zombie films, so you'd think that by now he'd have a handle on how to play a brain-dead homunculus with some sort of jocky panache. But that's not the case. As with many a teen comedy to come down the pike in the quarter-century since John Hughes' genre-defining Weird Science, Roberts is playing Bill Paxton playing that film's evil older brother, Chet; the resemblance between the young Paxton and this new incarnation really is striking, but not in a good way. It just feels lazy. It's worth pointing out at this point that I Love You, Beth Cooper's director, Columbus, is a Hughes protégé from way back, albeit one who came to directing after Hughes’ phenomenal teen-comedy run had all but petered out. (That said, Columbus, the screenwriter, was responsible for some seriously awesome and/or rad Eighties fare, including Gremlins and its sequel; the edgy, hypercool Aidan Quinn debut, Reckless; and the now-indisputably classic The Goonies. Nice run, but it didn't last.) Ultimately, and like many depressed teenagers, Beth Cooper lives, loves, and dies by its own hand. It takes its sweet time getting there, too, with an interminable first act that sets the stage for a huge payoff that never comes. Columbus has peppered the proceedings with various homages to ur-teen comedies such as My Bodyguard and Say Anything, and he even works in a cameo from Freaks and Geeks’ Samm Levine, but it's all for naught. Despite the film's obvious best intentions – and its myriad unintentional teen-comedy clichés – Beth Cooper ends up as little more than a recursive footnote to the infinitely better up-all-night teen comedies of, you guessed it, John Hughes.