Whenever one of these teen comedies pop up, it's always with an open and eager mind I go in search of a gem -- something sexy, smart, bawdy, romantic, longing -- something that rises above the expected to strike a deeper emotional chord. Because we all went through the phase, the idea of coming of age is a universal one, making some of the genre's post-John Hughes
winners, "Dazed and Confused," "American Pie," "The Girl Next Door," and to some extent, "17 Again," as enjoyable for those of us looking wistfully back at high school as for those who still attend. Obviously there's a lot of manure to sift through in search of this particular pony, and "I Love You, Beth Cooper
" happens to be one of the manurey-est.
Charmless and seedy only begin to describe the flat, meandering story of Stanford-bound Denis Cooverman (Paul Rust
), the nerdy high school valedictorian who uses the opportunity of his graduation speech to say out loud what is best left unspoken, including the film's title. What comes next is the expected "wild night" where repressed Denis -- and his mouthy best friend Rich (Jack T. Carpenter
) -- head off on a graduation-night romp with the aforementioned Beth Cooper (Hayden Pantierre
) and her two cheerleader friends (Lauren Storm
as a slutty dim-bulb and Lauren London
as someone who registers no personality whatsoever). Chasing them is Beth's psychotic, coked up Army boyfriend and his psychotic, coked up Army friends. They should've been called, "Convenient Plot-Movers I, II, and III."
Almost immediately, the story portends the hoary clichés to come when during The Speech of What Must Be Said Denis tells Rich to come to terms with the fact that he's homosexual. Just like that - within minutes - a major subplot has lost any chance of surprise because anyone who's watched what's come out of Hollywood these last few years knows there's absolutely no way Rich can't be gay now. Political correctness demands this tired character arc end exactly one way ... and that one way it does.
Another off-putting moment that sets this film's surprisingly sordid tone -- which will be heightened by a teenage threesome and Denis "coming of age" when he agrees to an orgy with Rich and the girls in the school shower -- involves Denis's dad, played by Alan Ruck
(best known as Ferris Bueller's best
friend in that unforgettable John Hughes' film). In his introductory scene, Mr. Cooverman let's Denis have the house for a party, supplies the alcohol (to eighteen-year olds) and encourages his son to "come of age" with the finding of some loveless sex. "Sometimes, you just gotta say, ‘What the F,'" Dad explains, becoming Miles
in "Risky Business
" instead of a loving, responsible parent.
In the past, we've seen Movie Dads wink-wink/nudge-nudge teenage sex and drinking, usually in the hopes of keeping the lines of communication open and fatherly advice coming, but Mr. Cooverman sitting his innocent son down for a man-to-man about the pagan joys of losing his innocence (which includes sharing a condom stash), is just creepy. Tom Cruise's parents in "Risky Business" might have been a little sterile and removed, but you never questioned the love they had for their son. Here I wasn't so sure.
In-between tired gags, unfunny flashbacks, and an inordinate amount of driving, "I Love You, Beth Cooper" does show a flicker of promise when Beth displays a touching moment of self-awareness talking of a future which holds nothing for her beyond looking back at high school as the best days of her life. On the other hand, she also understands that while Denis may have been socially toxic in high school, he's off to Stanford and a life that's only now begun.
What a moving, bittersweet theme that would've been to explore here, but instead it's presented as something of an afterthought that comes way too late to wash away the bad taste of what's already transpired.
When the end credits rolled, I was shocked to discover Chris Columbus
was the director, the same Chris Columbus who helmed both "Home Alone's" and "Only the Lonely" for none other than producer John Hughes. How do you work that closely with John Hughes and learn nothing about the heart, memorable characters and awkward longing necessary to make a timeless, iconic film about high school?