'I Love You, Beth Cooper' Review: I Wanna Love Ya
They say that high school is one of the most formative times in a person’s life. We start to learn who we are, who we want to be, what we want to make of our lives. It’s a time to get a sense of the world and our place in it, make the first steps towards creating a path for ourselves instead of following the one our parents laid out (hopefully). At the same time, though, they are years full of struggle, insecurities, missteps and wild exaggeration. Everything seems so hyper-real that it’s hard to break from the idea that your whole world could crumble in a minute.
Perhaps it’s this dichotomy of boiling emotions that makes the “coming-of-age high school flick” such a draw to creators and consumers, alike. It’s easy to mine for drama, instantly relatable, and, heck, even if your fresh-faced actors end up being terrible, you can just play it off for laughs and realism!
That’s the world I Love You, Beth Cooper inhabits. That printer-press, stamp-and-go, easy money cash-in that makes the setup of a would-be screenplay-turned-book and then adapted for film seem almost sensible. You have your carbon-copy stereotypes: the nerdy heroes, the girls of their dreams, and the jocks who beat them up. Characters literally spout “Carpe diem!” like it’s an original thought and they’ll never have hope or chance after eighteen. Awkward sexual tensions are played for laughs one minute, then try to be compelling and “romantic” the next. You can probably spout off plenty more, and Beth Cooper certainly has it.
Yet, as much as I walked in wanting to hate the movie, at some point, I just found I couldn’t. I had joked about how bad it would be, thought about stepping away and just leaving the last hour and a half of this 100-minute endeavor to another time… but I didn’t. And, somehow, Chris Columbus paid me back for that, in some small way.
Our classic trapping sees a group of high schoolers on graduation day. Valedictorian Denis Cooverman (Paul Rust) and his best friend Rich (Jack Carpenter) are discussing their plans for the last day, as Rich tries to persuade his friend not to let his feelings for head cheerleader Beth Cooper (Hayden Panettiere) go unspoken. So what does our intrepid hero do? If you guessed “make a groan-inducingly painful attempt at a pouring-of-the-heart speech as his address to the class,” you’re right! Not only does he profess his “love” for Beth (since that’s a thing that happens from six years of sitting behind her in class! Don’t forget your innuendos!), but he also makes fun of her boyfriend, calls out the school bitch, tries to encourage “forgive and forget” in his main bully, AND, of course, attempts to out his best friend as gay (totally not, we are assured by Rich MANY times). From there it’s more awkward sex jokes, his nerd friend thinks constant references and quotes are funny (spoilers: they aren’t. Ever), Denis gets almost thrashed a couple times, and “love interest” (used quite loosely) tries to make a joke of our protagonist.
Ho-hum, kill me now, could you be more bland.
But after Beth and her girlfriends actually come to Denis and Rich’s “party”, and a few more bad sexual gags… Something starts to happen. Maybe it’s the set-up of the two nerds trying to keep out Beth’s abusive, coke-addict boyfriend and his fellow military bros ala repelling a zombie infestation; or Beth actually standing between the two parties time and time again; or even the ridiculousness that is Denis and his toy lightsaber versus Kevin and his skeleton arm-nunchaku… but it almost starts to click.
As the adventure ramps up and the party (now consisting of Beth and friends plus Denis and Rich) flee from Kevin and his psychos, the writing seems to pick up. Beth shows herself to be a real, flawed human being, and Denis is forced to come to terms with this realization. Denis’ bully finds him at a later party and breaks down into tears thanks to the valedictorian’s revealing speech. Rich even drops the quoting for a bit to actually be clever and interesting. Sure there’s party scenes and sex jokes and more “lol no homo”-jabs, but there’s also a time for slow character building… And also an awesome towel fight between Rich and Kevin’s thugs that evokes classic swashbuckling adventure films with skill and wit.
All that said, I can’t profess to love Beth Cooper. As much as our heroes, and the film, may try to persuade me to. Beth tries to mope about high school being the crescendo of her life and, of course, our gold-hearted hero turns her around. The girlfriends try to screw Rich straight, but maybe he’s just bi, he tells his friend. It’s bogged down by bad writing early, a slapped-together resolution, and even when it’s being creative, you still feel like you’re watching the poor-man’s version of a better flick of some forgotten era.
For every good moment, there’s another step back. And, for that, Beth Cooper left me dreaming of a better movie: not the one I had envisioned, but not the one it started to make me believe in, either.
Final Say: Skip It