I Love You, Beth Cooper
Directed by Chris Columbus
I’m not going to beat around the bush. Although I haven’t subjected myself to the new Transformers movie, I will go out on a limb and say that I Love You, Beth Cooper is one of the worst movies of 2009. It’s poorly cast, sloppily directed and edited – but its most gruesome crime is how unfunny it is. All the more troubling, considering how cute and funny its source material is.
On graduation day, class valedictorian and all around loser Denis proclaims to the school his love for the head cheerleader, the titular Beth Cooper. When Beth and her posse show up at Denis’ graduation party (which consists only of Denis and his friend Rich) all hell breaks loose and Denis, Beth, and their friends set off on wild night of fist fights, car accidents, and parties, all before the inevitable happy ending.
The movie’s most obvious problem comes in the form of Paul Rust as Denis. With Rust in the role, Denis isn’t sweet or charming in his awkwardness. His declaration of love doesn’t come across as the heartfelt gesture of a soft-spoken guy; it comes off as weirdly self-serving. Rust lacks the charisma and ineffable attraction of, say Michael Cera, who must have been busy since this role would seem to be tailor-made for his brand of aw-shucks charm. With a lead that’s more annoying than endearing, the film is on shaky ground from the start.
Things improve substantially when Hayden Panetierre, as Beth, appears. With her sweet smile and laid back demeanor, it’s easy to see why Denis would be attracted to her. Panetierre does a good job of balancing the popular, confident Beth the world sees and the damaged, insecure girl hiding underneath. In the film’s quieter moments, she even shows some dramatic ability. I look forward to seeing her in material that is more worthy of her obvious talent.
It’s difficult to know where to place blame for the bulk of I Love You, Beth Cooper’s problems. The script by Larry Doyle, based on his autobiographical novel, contains some of the book’s quirky moments but eliminates many of the more realistic elements that made the characters relatable. I had to consciously lower my eyebrows on a number of occasions, so unbelievable were the hijinks.
Ultimately, the blame for the film’s shortcomings falls on Chris Columbus. Most recently Columbus bastardized the beloved Gen-X operetta Rent for the big screen, so it really shouldn’t be surprising that the man who could suck the pathos out of a character dying of AIDS also managed to make unrequited love boring. When Beth is baring her soul to Denis, Columbus can’t just leave the moment alone. It has to be interrupted by a psychotic raccoon, who serves no purpose other than to distract us from Beth’s surprising confessions and extend the film’s running time.
Despite the overall ham-handedness of even the film’s better scenes, there are some interesting moments for fans of pop culture. Denis’ father is played by Alan Ruck, who most will remember as Cameron Frye, Ferris Bueller’s Ferrari-stealing buddy in the classic teen comedy Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Seeing him as the parent of the hell-raiser is amusing. And the most eagle-eyed viewers should pay close attention to the name tag of the convenience store clerk, played by Samm Levine. Fans of the beloved but short lived Freaks and Geeks will get a chuckle from seeing Levine playing Neil (sort of) on the big screen.
The Bottom Line: This movie joins Renee Zellweger’s New in Town on my list of worst movies of 2009, so watch at your own risk. However, I would encourage you to head to a bookstore and pick up a copy of the novel on which the atrocity was based.