'Beth Cooper': The Dork Loves The Princess (Yawn)

Paul Rust and Hayden Panettiere in 'I Love You, Beth Cooper' i i

hide captionA Night To ... Remember? A painfully honest graduation speech earns dweeby Denis Cooverman (Paul Rust) the company of hottie Beth Cooper (Hayden Panettiere) for one wild night.

Joe Lederer/Twentieth Century Fox
Paul Rust and Hayden Panettiere in 'I Love You, Beth Cooper'

A Night To ... Remember? A painfully honest graduation speech earns dweeby Denis Cooverman (Paul Rust) the company of hottie Beth Cooper (Hayden Panettiere) for one wild night.

Joe Lederer/Twentieth Century Fox

I Love You, Beth Cooper

  • Director: Chris Columbus
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Running Time: 102 minutes

Rated PG-13: Crude and sexual content, language, some teen drinking and drug references, and brief violence

With: Hayden Panettiere, Paul Rust, Jack Carpenter

Paul Rust and Jack Carpenter in 'I Love You, Beth Cooper' i i

hide captionSchool's Out: Rick (Jack Carpenter, right) is Denis' even nerdier sidekick for a night of repetitive gags and stale plot devices.

Joe Lederer/Twentieth Century Fox
Paul Rust and Jack Carpenter in 'I Love You, Beth Cooper'

School's Out: Rick (Jack Carpenter, right) is Denis' even nerdier sidekick for a night of repetitive gags and stale plot devices.

Joe Lederer/Twentieth Century Fox

I'll say this for Denis Cooverman, the lovelorn dweeb at the center of Chris Columbus' new teen-angst comedy: By the end of I Love You, Beth Cooper, he still looks every undermuscled inch the pimply nerd — and the lasting outcome of his uphill battle to win the hard body and hidden soft heart of the prettiest girl in his class remains very much to be seen.

The movie opens promisingly enough, with Denis (nicely played by writer and standup comedian Paul Rust, who looks endearingly like an overachieving woodpecker) delivering a very funny valedictorian speech stuffed with damagingly frank assessments of the limitations of his fellow students.

As if that weren't enough, he tops it with an ill-judged declaration of undying love for the surreally pneumatic Beth Cooper (Hayden Panettiere), the school's most sought-after ubergirl. But it's hard to find much else to get excited about in this lumbering comedy, adapted by Larry Doyle from his own novel.

Soon after that speech, Beth's muscle-bound, dim-bulb boyfriend (Shawn Roberts) lays Denis out on the school lawn, a scene that's repeated ad nauseam whenever the story flags. Then, for reasons unknown in the universe of plausible plotting, Beth — flanked by the usual bitchy sidekicks (Lauren London and Lauren Storm) — shows up at Denis' house (parents away, natch) for a party whose only other attendee is his similarly unpresentable friend Rich (Jack Carpenter), a movie-quoting bag of bones whose indeterminate sexual identity is milked for jeers, then cheers, at depressingly regular intervals.

Indeed, almost everything else happens at regular intervals in the long, dark and drearily familiar night of the adolescent soul that follows: Flashbacks take us to the bad old days, in which Denis and Rich were even spottier and more callow than they are today. Beth does a lot of risky driving, her bravura stunts interrupted by tidbits revealing a brand of parental neglect that bring out the tender mensch in Denis.

Stooges deliver their gags. Bull-necked frat boys move in to inflict grievous bodily harm. When all else fails, a steaming cow patty appears, obligingly, for someone to step in.

Time was when Columbus, as the writer of Gremlins and Young Sherlock Holmes, knew how to bend a genre and make sophomoric come up fresh and funny — and his transition to the director's chair began well enough with Adventures in Babysitting and Home Alone.

But later efforts — Mrs. Doubtfire, Nine Months and the truly awful Stepmom — have been weaker, and the first two Harry Potter movies, which Columbus directed, were serviceable but pale imitations of his sharp early juvenilia.

It may be too much to hope that the studio cookie cutters will stop cranking out bad teen comedies: The fantasy of the nerdy boy scoring the most popular girl in the yearbook is simply too marketable to die. But this turf has been so trodden to death in the stampede for the coveted spotty-youth demographic that it's hard to imagine anyone coming up with anything new or imaginative to say about adolescence and its discontents.

So maybe it's best to see the release of I Love You, Beth Cooper as a public-service announcement on behalf of a five-year moratorium on teen comedies. At the end of that time, as under-20s are compelled to get cracking supporting themselves and their 100-year-old elders — who'll have no retirement or health benefits — the very idea of the adolescent years as a period of self-discovery will have become a quaint relic of a dimly remembered past.

The new target audience, of course, will be 5-year-olds with Twitter accounts.

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