Directed by Chris Columbus
Written by Larry Doyle
Starring Hayden Panettiere, Paul Rust, Jack Carpenter, Lauren London and Lauren Storm
What ever happened to Jimmy Reardon? Where have you gone Ferris Bueller? As recently as the 1980s, teenage film heroes were resilient adventurers - worthy heirs of the Great American Boy, Tom Sawyer. Think of John Cusack in Say Anything or The Sure Thing , Tom Cruise in Risky Business , River Phoenix in A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon , or Matthew Broderick in Ferris Bueller's Day Off .
Then Jason Biggs got caught romancing the title pastry in American Pie (1999). That film's success turned teen comedy into a hazing ritual. And so now, in I Love You Beth Cooper , we have high-school valedictorian Denis Cooverman blowing his graduation speech by blurting out that he loves the head cheerleader. After that, "Denis the Penis" is pulverized by Beth's boyfriend, knocked senseless by a champagne cork, run over by a car, ripped apart by a rose bush, and left to wander a country road at night wearing only his lucky Spider-Man underwear. Oh, and he also loses one of his baby teeth opening a beer.
His baby teeth!
Denis is played by stand-up comedian Paul Rust ( Semi Pro ). Rust is probably an ordinary looking and sounding guy, but here the comic has been dumbed down to Super Nerd, wearing the same oversized Rugby shirt and expression (wincing as if anticipating a punch) the entire film. His voice is a seagull's caw.
As mentioned, the love of Denis's life is Beth Cooper (Hayden Panettiere). The acclaimed book upon which the movie is based probably made a great deal of how Beth, like nerdy Denis, is a victim of typecasting. Everyone figures she's a born-with-streaked-hair bimbo. A girl every boy wants - for one night only.
The movie does that, too, but only intermittently. We get 20-25 minutes of speeding, boorish behaviour. Beth and her two girlfriends run roughshod over Denis and his gay best buddy, Rich (Jack Carpenter), to a soundtrack of squealing tires and Foreigner-Alice-Cooper-Kiss songs.
Then: orange light. Action slows. Cue the tinkling piano. Rich is told it's okay to be gay. Beth allows that being head cheerleader is a career with an early expiry date.
The trouble is that the film isn't convincing at either speed. Filmmaker Chris Columbus made his bones in the early nineties knocking off energetic family comedies - Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire - but he lacks the funk and fury required to make a properly improper teen comedy. His new film feels curiously outdated. Why are these kids listening to and singing Alice Cooper songs? There's even a cow-tipping scene! And while it's great to hear that being gay is okay in a Hollywood comedy, the most homophobic of all film genres, there is a draggy sincerity to I Love You Beth Cooper . The movie feels like something parents want their kids to see. Harold and Kumar wouldn't want anything to do with Beth Cooper or Denis Cooverman.
You're probably not going to like them much either.
Special to The Globe and Mail
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