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by Bill Gibron

9 Jul 2009

Apparently, previous accomplishments and past reputation mean nothing in the “what have you done for me lately” world of Hollywood hackdom. Just because you’ve made excellent films as a director (Adventures in Babysitting, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) or were responsible for several excellent episodes of a seminal animated series (The Simpsons) doesn’t mean you can deliver something special - or even watchable. The sad fact is that, for all it’s post-millennial Generation Z posturing, I Love You Beth Cooper is an abject failure. It’s not funny. It’s not insightful. And just when you think it will wake up and deliver the kind of warm and fuzzy nostalgia that made John Hughes a wealthy recluse, it continuous its path toward complete cinematic incompetence.

Egged on by his fey friend Rich, high school valedictorian Denis Cooverman decides to use his ceremonial speech to say all the things he never had the nerve to during his tenure as resident class geek. During his address, he calls out the bully who beat him up. He points out the snobby girls who wouldn’t give him the time of day. He even shames an ex-student who dates the girl of his unrequited dreams. And yes, eventually, he says the five magic words that will change his life - or at least his graduation party plans - forever. When Beth Cooper unexpectedly arrives at his house, ready to show Denis a good time, little does our dork know that such a special night will include run-ins with her Roid-raging boyfriend, various terrifying traffic incidents, a rabid raccoon attack, and the realization that, sometimes, fantasy is a million light years away from lovelorn reality.

If comedy is all timing, then I Love You Beth Cooper is temporally retarded. It is so bereft of laughs that you can actually watch it leeching them out of surrounding films. This is a low point for everyone involved, even those actors and crewmembers who are just starting out in their big screen careers. There is really nothing shocking about an attempting teen burlesque that doesn’t work. Hollywood has been trading T&A for talent in this genre since Sixteen Candles morphed into Some Kind of Wonderful. But aside from some underage drinking and a couple of references to sex, I Love You Beth Cooper is all (enfeebled) brains and no bawdiness. This is the least titillating coming of age saga since This Boy’s Life, and at least that film had Robert DeNiro to up the “va-va-va-voom” factor.

It’s not just that director Chris Columbus has seemingly lost his creative marbles. It’s not just the fact that the first 15 minutes sit there like a fetid fish carcass bloating in the sun. It’s not the bad casting, the anemic acting, the lack of any plot logic or focus. No, the biggest surprise here is how I Love You Beth Cooper can’t generate a single significant emotion - except anger, or course. We don’t care about anyone here. We find Denis and his decisions about as rational as a stalker explaining their human body part collection. Sure, we all have a high school crush, someone who we always thought was out of our league or incapable of dialing into our own idiosyncratic wavelength. But longing does not equal likeability - especially when it is attached to a best friend who can’t stop spewing meaningless movie trivia.

As Denis, Paul Rust is regressive, acting like someone whose IQ drops at random intervals. One moment, he’s quoting quantum physics. The next, he’s running around in Spiderman Underoos. As his “I’m Not Gay” buddy Rich, Jack Carpenter is all mensch and no meaning.  His performance is wound so tightly, and his mannerism so manufactured and false, that we keep wondering when he will let down the façade and show us the truth. It never happens. Indeed, that’s I Love You Beth Cooper in a nutshell. Instead of giving us real people who act in formulaic ways, we get sad stereotypes who try, unsuccessfully, to overcome the clichés involved.

This is especially true of Heroes honey Hayden Panettiere. As actresses go, she’s one short lived TV series phenomenon removed from a stint in reality TV. As a blond blank, she’s barely tolerable. As our lead, she needs to be irresistible and ingratiating, the kind of gal who stirs your loins as well as your intellect. But she’s really just the typical pretty girl with a sad backstory: a dead brother; a seemingly loveless home life; a need to feel special and wanted by the boys in school. What is this, an episode of The Maury Povich Show? How Beth Cooper survived four years of schooling without becoming a stripper of having her own sex tape makes no sense. But since Panettiere is so distant here, we never get a handle on all the hurt. Instead, Denis looks like a douche for idolizing such a superficial subject.

We may expect better from ex-Simpsons scribe Larry Doyle, but his only other screenplays - the horrid Duplex and the semi-successful Looney Tunes: Back in Action - indicate a level of accomplishment that more or less dooms this particular project. Many found the novel unique in its exploration of the dark side of high school life. But when translated to the silver screen, edge is not endearing. Indeed, there are several moments in I Love You Beth Cooper when you question why the police haven’t gotten involved - not that the adults seem to care. After their car and home is destroyed by random acts of adolescent stupidity, Ma and Pa Cooverman smile like lobotomized cretins and simply accept the vandalism.

Indeed, this is a film that feels bereft of all the wit, style, and substance. Instead of looking at the truth behind teenage cliques and the cruelty they can foster, we get standard he/she awkwardness, drunken antics, and more mangled movie quotes than Ben Lyons could honestly tolerate. Anyone tackling this particular genre has their work cut out for them. Between the past and the present, the sniggling naiveté of the ‘80s and the post-millennial mainstream of porn, a teen romp has a tough row to hoe. Superbad managed by emphasizing the foul mouthed and the filthy. I Love You Beth Cooper crashes because it can’t decide how to handle its many competing conceits. You’d figure with the people involved behind the scenes, this would be an easy clash to conclude. Clearly, it wasn’t.

by Rob Horning

9 Jul 2009

This could be a purely personal idiosyncrasy, but I’m wondering if it might indicate something larger about why big-box stores are so successful in America. I’m extrapolating from my weird aversion to going to the local bike shop. I just started to ride my old bike that I had in Arizona, and I’ve quickly realized that I need a few things for riding in New York City—mainly a helmet and new handle grips. Even though there is a local bike shop five blocks from my apartment, I find myself procrastinating about going over there. Maybe I spent too much time in record stores as a teenager, but I have this unshakable paranoia that the people in the bike shop will laugh at me. They will see that I am not a “real” biker; riding a bike around is not my lifestyle, it’s not my brand. I’m not going to ride my bike to work, let alone be one of those guys darting through traffic in midtown, menacing pedestrians and drivers alike. I’m not going to join Critical Mass and try to blockade the transit grid. I don’t wear special gear to bike around in and I am not even sure I know what model of bike I have. (It has gears.) I’m strictly “entry level,” to use Hipster Runoff terminology—I’m a novice, an amateur, too clueless to even know what is at stake with the subcultural signifiers. If I had more strength of character, perhaps, I would brazen it out in the bike shop and get what I need, despite my vague sense that it will be slightly more expensive than it need be since I’d be paying the specialty store/small business tariff. I wouldn’t care what people might think of me.

But instead I am attracted to the possibility of shopping anonymously. I think of going out to Target to get my bike helmet. There I can be assured that no one in the store particularly cares about what I am buying. I might even be required to check myself out at a self-service register, permitting me to have no encounter with another person at all. How convenient!

Anyway, my suspicion is that convenience, anonymity, freedom from other people’s assumptions about our lifestyle, the automatic assumption that we are pursuing a lifestyle inauthentically, the desire to face as little human contact as possible while we are in consumer mode—all these things are intertwined ideologically, and make up the field of consumer capitalism as its experienced by ordinary people—or at least people like me. Big-box stores seem engineered to supply a specific retail experience that protects our anonymity and minimizes our need for human contact, preserving our bubble of narcissistic fantasy as we roam around handling the merchandise. When this bubble gives way—when we seek the nuisance and insecurity of human contact—we mediate the relation through the signaling function of our goods and disappear into the life that they imply.

by Joe Tacopino

9 Jul 2009

Julie Doiron is renowned for her work as a singer-songwriter, as well as with bands such as Eric’s Trip and Mount Eerie. So much so, in fact, that the town of Bruno, Saskatchewan declared June 7th Julie Doiron Day. See her battle the dentist in her new video for “Consolation Prize”.

by Zane Austin Grant

9 Jul 2009

Some people move a lot, jumping from city to city, addicted to the newness and the ability to abandon their pasts.  Through this process, they begin to refine their autobiographic introductions.  After exchanging names, jobs, and past times, new acquaintances start to size you up not only based on what you say, but how you say it. Meeting people is easy when you have the story they want to hear, but figuring out just what that story is can be taxing, and the repetition and refinement of those stories can make you start to question what had actually happened. 
Local is mostly a series about that addiction and those disaffected left behind.  As Megan, the principle character of the work, travels from city to city, she tries on multiple identities until she starts to have trouble remembering who she is to which people.  Sorting through forgotten name tags at her movie theater job, she starts to make up histories for different names, slipping into simple pasts in each attempt at a new introduction and losing a piece of her self in the process. 

To capture the feeling of the city, Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly had their friends send them pictures of spaces in each place that they thought held some unique aspect of the local.  In this issue, the Oxford movie theater in Halifax, Nova Scotia serves to reinforce the idea that identity is in some sense performance in that people are going to watch actors on film.  Perhaps more importantly, it also plays upon the ease of worker substitution, as evidenced by the pile of abandoned name tags, each representing the forgotten past of someone who had worked there before.  As Megan sifts through names in these panels, she is touching objects that are representative of past employees who bore different proper nouns, but probably sold and tore tickets in equally efficient ways.

by Courtney Young

9 Jul 2009

Before the international frenzy that Barack Obama commanded following his historic presidential campaign and win, Michael Jackson was the global face of black exceptionalism and achievement. His death at the age of 50 on June 25, 2009, almost succeeded in crashing the Internet and suspended social media mechanisms such as Twitter. In excess of 1.6 million people logged into a random lottery system in hopes to garner one of the 20,000 tickets needed to gain access into Jackson’s memorial service this past Tuesday. His face has graced the cover of virtually every major (and minor) international periodical, newspaper, and news program since his untimely death. Much has been written and reported about Michael Jackson from his impact on an impressively diverse and large demographic to his transformation from a beautiful, cherubic child to a grotesqueness unknown or unseen before him to his massive debts and legal troubles stemming from allegations of pedophilia. As a child of the ‘80s, Michael Jackson was the model for many of my own personal interpretations of Thriller, but for me it’s his role as the seminal figure in the integration of African American musicality into the global pop culture stratosphere that bears the seismic weight of his significance.

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