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I Love You, Beth Cooper

Director: Chris Columbus
Cast: Hayden Panettiere, Paul Rust, Jack Carpenter, Alan Ruck, Cynthia Stevenson

(Fox Atomic; US theatrical: 10 Jul 2009 (General release); UK theatrical: 21 Aug 2009 (General release); 2009)

Fearful

I Love You, Beth Cooper is yet another in the long line of shameless knock-offs being shoveled into theaters near you. Without even the pretense of originality, it’s a coming of age “comedy” (based on the novel by Larry Doyle, who also wrote the screenplay) dressed up as a geek-boy’s high school revenge fantasy.


The film opens as Rich (Jack Carpenter) tries to persuade best friend and fellow social leper Denis (Paul Rust) to use his valedictory speech to declare his unrequited love for head cheerleader Beth Cooper (Hayden Panettiere). If he doesn’t, Rich reasons, Denis will regret it, “Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.” (This is just the first of innumerable classic film references Rich doles out, reminding us each time what this film will never be.) Denis goes through with it, then goes on to call out every bully, anorexic, and “stuck up bitch” who has tormented him.


Like Amanda (Jennifer Love Hewitt) in 1998’s Can’t Hardly Wait (a film this one steals from incessantly), Beth is used to being told she’s loved, and now, she’s intrigued. Everyone else on Denis’ list swears vengeance, including Beth’s Special Ops boyfriend, Kevin (Shawn Roberts). What follows has to be the longest night in history, as Denis, Rich, Beth, and her two girlfriends party, get to know each other while running away from impending beatings.


It turns out Beth is not the ethereal teen goddess Denis thought she was. Rather, she drives like a maniac, pimps herself out for beer, and opens bottles with her teeth. Denis looks on with disbelief and not a little condescension as she explains that the fear of being “ordinary” is the driving force behind her escapades. “She’s not Beth Cooper,” he laments. But what’s lost on Denis is that a similar fear on his part launched this ridiculous night in the first place: he dreaded being ordinary and invisible (he sat behind her for four years and never once spoke to her).


While Beth and Denis compete over who’s most sincere, Rich is distracted by his own dilemma—specifically concerning his sexuality. Most of his friends and relatives assume Rich is gay because he’s in theater club and has never had a girlfriend. Told repeatedly that he’s “totally gay,” Rich begins to feel “outed,” whether he likes it or not. Still, this ostensible “lesson for the kids” on being okay with oneself, is undermined by the lazy jokes used to teach it.


Besides, no one here looks especially “okay.” Hyper-masculine Kevin appears stupid and bullies. And Beth and her cronies, Treece (Lauren Storm) and Cammy (Lauren London), are essentially props to validate Denis and Rich. The film never indicts Denis for objectifying Beth (even when she complains that he’s been masturbating to the poster of her over his bed), but rather rewards him with her affection. Miss Cooper, on the other hand, is undeserving and two-dimensional, an object of desire, just as the film’s title announces.

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