I Love You Beth Cooper: Columbus’ Flat Comedy

Chris Columbus’ comedy-adventure, “I Love You, Beth Cooper,” assumes that every generation needs to have its own “American Graffiti.”

But the high-concept movie is so lame, so episodic and so out of touch with the times, that it’s doubtful many TV fans of co-star Hayden Panettiere (who’s much more impressive in “Heroes”) will see it.

In its old-fashioned approach and familiar themes, the Pg-13 movie recalls the John Hughes’ comedies and dramedies of the 1980s, “The Breakfast Club,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

After helming and/or producing a couple of “Harry Potter” pictures, this is a decidedly step down for Columbus, who in this picture tries to recapture the naïve charm of his earlier works, such as “Adventures in Babysitting,” and “Home Alone.”

Adapted to the screen by Larry Doyle from his own novel (which I have not read), “I Love You, Beth Cooper” begins well and intermittently has some charming moments, but not enough to sustain interest throughout the entire narrative.

A genre feature, “I Love You” is set at Buffalo Grove High School, centering on valedictorian Dennis Cooverman (Paul Rust), a bright student with good academic record, a conscientious youngster with good behavior to flaunt.  But something has been missing from his life, the joys, pains and adventures that define late adolescence, things like breaking curfew, property destruction, excessive drinking, unnecessary fist fights, fast cars, and above all, experience with girls.  Is it too late for him to catch up?

It turns out that Dennis has been secretly harboring love for Beth Cooper (Hayden Panettiere), a popular and appealing girl who sat in the desk just in front of him in many classes.  Under the influence of his best friend, Rich (Jack T. Carpenter), who may be closeted gay, Dennis pulls courage and declares love for Beth from the podium, resulting in quite a public embarrassment.  Would this become a fatal faux pas?

Things change when Beth and her two friends, the bitchy Cammy (Lauren London) and the easy-going Treece (Lauren Storm) decide to show up at the ad hoc graduation night party co-hosted by Dennis and Rich.  Wouldn’t you know it that another surprise guest is Beth’s tough boyfriend Kevin (Shawn Edwards), accompanied by two of his menacing friends.  Rest of the movie describes how lovelorn dork Denis and object of affection Beth, with their motley entourage in tow, try to flee together from Beth’s vengeful, psychotic boyfriend.

The movie goes out of its way to be funny, edgy and offbeat, to show that the most turbulent and intense moments in our lives are during the junior or senior years in high school, but at its core, it’s so generic and retro (but not in a cool way) that it lacks any dramatic interest.  Moreover, almost every scene in this picture recalls or rehashes or pays tribute to a better one in another picture.  Is it possible to see bitchy students without thinking of “Mean Girls” or “Heathers”?

You can’t fault the actors for most of them are playing stereotypical roles. Newcomer Paul Rust, who was discovered at an evening of improv at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, is decent as the awkward dork (a role that “Juno” Michael Cera could have played in his sleep). Hayden Panettiere, from the hit TV series “Heroes,” in which she boasts a cheerleader-superhero image, here plays a girl who’s not really good at anything and doesn’t have much talent.  Not very smart, and with little prospects for college education, high school must be the summation of her world, the only place where she thrives.

Some of my colleagues found the picture offensive in its sexual politics and reliance on formula and stock characters (the dork, the slut, the insecure party girl), but to me it was more than anything else bland, predictable, and joyless–certainly not a comedy that makes you feel good at the end.

Columbus represents an interesting case, a consistently bland director who has not developed his skills, technically or artistically.  In fact, his earlier films, “Gremlins,” “Adventures in Babysitting,” and “Home Alone” to which the new one resembles in its episodic structure, reliance on stock characters, and visual gags, are far more entertaining.  Of all of Spielberg’s protégés, he boasts the least interesting resume.



Beth Cooper – Hayden Panettiere Denis Cooverman – Paul Rust Rich – Jack T. Carpenter Cammy – Lauren London Treece – Lauren Storm Kevin – Shawn Roberts


A 20th Century Fox release of a Fox Atomic presentation of a 1492 Pictures production. Produced by Chris Columbus, Mark Radcliffe, Michael Barnathan. Executive producers, Larry Doyle, Jenny Blum, Michael Flynn. Directed by Chris Columbus. Screenplay, Larry Doyle, based on his novel. Camera, Phil Abraham. Editor, Peter Honess. Music, Christophe Beck; music supervisor, Patrick Houlihan. Production designer, Howard Cummings. Art director, Sandra Tanaka. Set decorator, Mary-Lou Storey. Costume designer, Karen Matthews. Sound , Michael Williamson; supervising sound editor, Robert Shoup.

MPAA Rating: PG-13.

Running time: 102 Minutes.