Rated: PG-13 for crude and sexual content, language, some teen drinking and drug references, and brief violence.
Release Date: 2009-07-10
Starring: Larry Doyle
Official Website: http://www.iloveyoubethcoopermovie.com/
I Love You, Beth Cooper is a film that blends the satirical and the serious, although the former lacks the edge to give it bite and the latter is only occasionally applied with conviction. The result feels at odds with itself and never fully satisfies. There’s a sense that a much better movie is trying to get out but it never attains escape velocity.
It’s graduation day for the seniors of Buffalo Grove High, and valedictorian Denis Cooverman (Paul Rust) is about to deliver an unusual address. In it, he professes unrequited love for the school’s head cheerleader, Beth Cooper (Hayden Panettiere). This delights Denis’ best friend, Rich (Jack T. Carpenter), who is the instigator of Denis’ confession. Beth is conflicted – despite being embarrassed, she finds the whole thing “so sweet.” Her thuggish, drugged-out boyfriend, Kevin (Shawn Roberts), decides that ending Denis’ life might be the best way to resolve an unpleasant situation. Events conspire to group Denis, Beth, Rich, and Beth’s two best friends, Cammy (Lauren London) and Treece (Lauren Storm), together for the night. Their misadventures include avoiding Kevin when he launches an attack on Denis’ house, breaking into the school for some fun in the showers, turning up at the most popular party of the evening, and spending time in a cabin in the woods. Out for blood, Kevin is always in hot pursuit, and both Beth and Denis discover things about their feelings for one another they weren’t expecting.
The intended raunchy content has been watered down for PG-13 consumption. There is nudity, but it’s of the peek-a-boo variety. Director Chris Columbus, a graduate of the John Hughes school of filmmaking (perhaps best known for handling the first two Harry Potter movies), avoids anything deeply scathing or controversial. Although I Love You, Beth Cooper doesn’t quite fit neatly into the teenage romantic comedy mold, it comes close, with titles like Risky Business and The Girl Next Door being appropriate antecedents. (The Tom Cruise movie is even mentioned explicitly.)
Hayden Panettiere is best-known for her role in the TV series Heroes, although her acting career stretches back much farther. She shows impressive range here, essentially having to play three versions of Beth Cooper: the image that attracts the eyes and stirs the hormones of all the boys in school (including Denis); the scary, reckless one who pushes boundaries and buttons; and the “real” girl behind all the curtains. Panettiere integrates the three into one, which is a more adept task than one might imagine. The performance is better than the movie deserves.
There’s a sense that I Love You, Beth Cooper has been smoothed out and dumbed down to reach the broadest audience. (Not having read the novel by Larry Doyle, who also penned the screenplay, I can’t say for sure.) As good as some of the bonding material is, that’s how unfortunate many of the so-called comedic and generic story elements are. I Love You, Beth Cooper is schizophrenic – two very different movies uneasily occupying the same space and time. One of them has promise; the other is annoying and off-putting. The filmmakers lacked the courage and conviction to tell an honest, character-based story and resorted to something that has been massaged into a more comfortable, easily consumable cinematic morsel. Too bad the inevitable result of ingesting this is heartburn.