Comic timing is a tricky thing, especially when it’s on the written page (think of how many laugh-free “joke” books you’ve skimmed through before tossing them back on the shelf). Larry Doyle’s novel, I Love You, Beth Cooper, was such a rarity and cause for celebration—it’s packed with laugh-’til-it-hurts twists and real honesty and succeeds as both a dark, playful tale and a parody of every high school comedy you can think of. The movie, directed by Chris Columbus, is a crushing disappointment, especially since Doyle wrote the screenplay. What the heck happened?
Paul Rust stars as Denis Cooverman, a hopeless dweeb who, rather than fill his high school graduation speech with variations on “we can change the world,” declares in front of his graduating class that he is in love with Beth Cooper (Hayden Panettiere of Heroes), the girl of his dreams. The obvious problem with Denis’s romantic gesture is that they have never spoken, and she is the untouchable captain of the cheerleading squad with an insanely jealous boyfriend. Still, Cooper is visibly touched, which leads her boyfriend and his goon squad on an all night hunt for Denis’s blood.
The set-up is mostly the same as the book, but watching the movie is like sitting in a bus, waiting for a great trip to start. And waiting. And waiting. The movie just sits there. There are no laughs; more work was put into the fight scenes (which are nothing special) than anything else. Rust wasn’t a good choice for the lead: his looks are unconventional and he can play “nerdy” but he can’t carry a movie, let alone make you care about his annoying character. Panettiere was a good casting choice for Beth Cooper and she tries to bring more to her part than is in the script, but this won’t jump-start her career.
The only scenes that work are some sweet moments late in the movie—but how hard is it to nail a scene where the characters hug and the music swells? The “nice” moments are forced and don’t mix with all the mean-spirited, unfunny set pieces that comprise so much of the movie.
Despite his uneven body of work, Columbus seemed like a good fit to direct this. Yet, even considering how bad his adaptation of the musical Rent was, this is easily his worst movie. With Alan Ruck (Cameron from Ferris Bueller) in the cast and the frequent references to great movies, it seems like the filmmakers thought they were making a modern day John Hughes picture. They thought wrong.
It’s bad enough that I Love You, Beth Cooper is a stink bomb, but that its based on one of my favorite books is depressing. Seeing a bad movie made out of a beloved novel is like seeing someone doodle over your family photos with a permanent marker; you may always have the memories, but you’re stuck with a picture of how someone ruined them. MTW