Thursday, July 16, 2009

I Love You Beth Cooper: Puppy love

I Love You Beth Cooper (2009) • View trailer for I Love You Beth Cooper
3.5 stars (out of five). Rating: PG-13, for profanity, smutty content and frequent bad teen behavior
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 7.16.09
Buy DVD: I Love You Beth Cooper• Buy Blu-Ray: I Love You, Beth Cooper [Blu-ray]

I'm grateful for filmmakers who don't need to hit the ball out of the park every time.

After helming the first two Harry Potter entries and bringing Rent to the big screen, director Chris Columbus must've been exhausted ... and, one suspects, fed up with the sheer size and scope of such projects. No surprise, then, that he'd return to the simpler, gentler style of his younger days  specifically his 1987 directorial debut, Adventures in Babysitting  and renew his acquaintance with "little" pictures.
If Beth (Hayden Panettiere, center) is in sight, then her thuggish boyfriend can't
be far behind ... a realization that prompts delight from Treece (Lauren Storm,
left) and Cammy (Lauren London), and absolute terror from Denis (Paul Rust,
left) and Rich (Jack T. Carpenter).

The result, a charming adaptation of I Love You, Beth Cooper  Larry Doyle wrote the screenplay, from his own 2007 novel  certainly covers no new ground in the teen romantic comedy genre, and in fact feels overly familiar at times. But Columbus and Doyle blend the formulaic ingredients with enough skill to keep us entertained, and the engaging young stars inhabit their roles with enough conviction to sell the material.

Doyle's script is funny, earthy and just gross enough, at random moments, to hold the attention of a young target audience. Sadly, though, that demographic probably will avoid this film like the plague. Beth Cooper feels too much like an adult's perception of the teen scene, which automatically makes it uncool; this film also lacks the up-to-the-minute pop score that made Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist (for example) a more successful teen package.

(I liked it anyway. Sue me.)

This film represents a bid for big-screen stardom by Hayden Panettiere, an ongoing presence as the plucky high school cheerleader on TV's Heroes. She plays a high school cheerleader here as well, which probably won't do much to impress future talent scouts with her range ... but, in fairness, she definitely nails the part.

She and co-star Paul Rust are the primary reasons for this film's success: Both deliver winning, thoroughly sympathetic performances. The premise also is can't-miss, since we've all cast ourselves as hapless geeks in long-ago romantic fantasies about being tongue-tied in the presence of The One Who Got Away ... for the simple reason that we never worked up the courage to say anything to the guy or gal in question.

That's a future memory that Buffalo Grove High School valedictorian Denis Cooverman (Rust) is determined to avoid. Encouraged overmuch by best friend Rich (Jack T. Carpenter), Denis uses his graduation speech as a means to confess his worshiped-from-afar, never-before-revealed love for Beth Cooper (Panettiere), the hottest girl in school ... while also putting names to several other white elephants who stampeded through the senior class.

These other targets aren't happy with their very public outing. Beth isn't wild about her moment in the spotlight either, but she's also annoyed with her older, thick-necked, military-hopeful boyfriend, Kevin (Shawn Roberts).

Wanting to provoke Kevin, and no doubt expecting a giggle from mingling with the nerds, Beth and her two BFFs  Cammy (Lauren London) and Treece (Lauren Storm)  sashay later that day into the "party" that Denis has mounted for a likely audience of two: himself and Rich.

Kevin and his two similarly hulking buddies, alas, aren't far behind. One melee later, involving rather too much destruction of personal property, Denis and Rich are "rescued" by Beth, Cammy and Treece; all five pile into Beth's road-beaten Cabriolet for a night they'll not soon forget.

All the subsequent escapades are designed to increase Denis' mortification, and the embarrassment meter just about goes off the scale. But Denis remains doggedly true to his own graceless social skills; it's not as if he suddenly discovers the secret to being suave.

This makes him even more endearing, particularly as Beth realizes that Denis' iconic vision of her is a lot more respectful than the way Kevin takes her for granted.

Some of the running gags score, notably Beth's take-no-prisoners approach to driving, and a bit involving a school bully has a clever payoff. Other interludes are forced and wholly unbelievable, as with a come-hither high school gym shower sequence that feels like something written by a guy who watched Porky's too many times as a teen.

At times, though, Doyle's script aspires to something greater than its genre. Immediately prior to that shower scene, Beth and her friends giggle their way through a basketball court cheerleading routine, as Denis and Rich enjoy the private show. Once the dancing and wiggling conclude, Cammy and Treece leave the court ... but Beth lingers, eyeing her surroundings with sudden soberness.

And we get it: This young woman knows, deep in her gut, that her time in the spotlight is done. Denis, Rich and perhaps even her two friends will move on to greater glories in college and beyond, but she  Beth  never will do better than the four years that just came to an end.

Columbus doesn't call too much attention to this moment, but Panettiere sells it without a word of dialogue; we see the joy leak from her expression like water, to be replaced by resignation.

Rust, bless his heart, bravely plays a geek among geeks: an awkward misfit every bit as socially challenged as Christopher Mintz-Plasse's Fogell, in Superbad.

Rust also has a nose that would've made the great Jimmy Durante jealous: a honker of proportions that even Opus the Penguin could admire.

And while it's not kind to single out a performer for a physical characteristic that he obviously cannot control, this protuberant proboscis is fair game both because the movie makes such sport of it, and because Rust leads with this prominent feature from start to finish.

The message is clear: If a guy with a schnoz like this can get the girl, anybody can.

London never makes much of an impression as Cammy, but Storm's sweet, somewhat simple-minded Treece becomes genuinely adorable. By the end of the movie, I wished her part had been larger.

Carpenter tries much too hard, early on, as a guy whose every word and deed are inspired by  and endlessly quoted from  old movies. Fortunately, Rich becomes more interesting as he repeatedly denies the assertion that he's gay, and clearly struggles to define and/or accept his sexual orientation, whatever it may be.

Alan Ruck has a small but telling role as Denis' father: a nice bit of stunt casting, since Ruck played wing man to Matthew Broderick in one of the best teen-dreams-for-a-day movies ever made, 1986's Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

Sadly, I Love You, Beth Cooper is being overshadowed by its flashier summer competitors; 20th Century Fox dumped it onto the marketplace without benefit of advance screenings, which makes savvy viewers wary of roadkill. But this little flick is better than that; I'd like to believe it'll have a long and healthy afterlife on DVD.

That said, I still wouldn't want to be in the same room with any young teens who watch it with their parents.

No comments:

Post a Comment