Saturday, July 25, 2009

I Love You, Beth Cooper (2009)

I Love You, Beth Cooper opens with its best scene though, given the quality of the movie, that’s not saying much. The stereotypically nerdy valedictorian proclaims his love for the prettiest, most popular girl in the school during his graduation speech by uttering the movie’s title. Played by Paul Rust, the character's speech is mildly amusing. The movie’s all downhill from there. It’s a comedy, supposedly, but I laughed a grand total of once, and smiled only a few times more.

Television star Hayden Panettiere plays Beth Cooper. She brings the pretty and the popular but she lacks the depth to pull off the character’s subtext. You see, popular girls aren’t perfect. Are you surprised? Beth Cooper shows up at the valedictorian’s house, where he and his best friend (Jack Carpenter) are having a small party, and proceeds to flee from her crazy military boyfriend (Shawn Roberts), nerds in tow. The movie is filled with all kinds of flat, unimaginative dialogue and self-consciously wacky behavior. It’s like a painfully awkward person who has intellectualized comedy but has no capabilities to perform it.

There are also all kinds of odd fight scenes between Rust and Roberts that are ostensibly humorous and filmed in a dreary sitcom style, but the blows are matched with painfully heightened sound effects. Each punch thrown lands with a booming thump that doesn’t match the damage we see on screen or make the moment funnier. It’s not funny to watch a nerd get beaten up, at least not any funnier than watching a Hummer plow through the front of a mansion or having a teenage girl (an embarrassing Lauren Storm) admit fairly disturbing facts about her life while looking into the foreground with a blank stare.

Chris Columbus directs with a flat, uninspired style that drums its way through the dull plot. Rust and Carpenter are vaguely entertaining – they have a commitment to the material that’s endearing – and there's a sweet little romance that barely develops between Carpenter and a girl played believably by Lauren London, but they can’t salvage the mess. This is a studio comedy that feels prepackaged and focus-grouped from the start. It’s light and harmless enough, I suppose, but uninvolving to its core, so desperate for laughs that it goes to the well of cheap animal gags not once but twice. The movie plays like a bad PG-13 Superbad rip-off, with best friends trying to fit in with some cool girls. But, unlike Greg Mottola’s wonderful, and wonderfully vulgar, teen comedy, Beth Cooper isn’t funny, isn’t original, and has zero emotional impact or relevance. It is a perfect closed system of a movie, originating and terminating within the Hollywood studio bubble without ever making contact with the real world.

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