A nerdy valedictorian proclaims his love for the hottest and most popular girl in school – Beth Cooper (Hayden Panettiere) – during his graduation speech. Much to his surprise, Beth shows up at his door that very night and decides to show him the best night of his life.
With a nerdish-nebbish everyman hero, the object-of-his-lust cheerleader and a blandly generic assortment of support character clichés, Chris Columbus’ I Love You, Beth Cooper should have so easily been the risqué '80s teen-comedy rip-off it very obviously set out to be.
These films are harmless, often energetically likable romps that teenagers from the genre’s heyday remember fondly but never, ever revisit in their adult lives. (Paul Brickman’s ’83 hit Risky Business still holds up, but very few others do). Above all, they adhere to a tried-and tested formula: Loser pines for girl, loser and girl are thrown together, loser and girl find common ground. None of these films ever won an Oscar, but they were fun.
I Love You, Beth Cooper utilises the template but abandons the all-important sweetness. Some of those '80s films were pretty offensive (most contained a character or two with names like 'Spaz’, 'Booger’ or 'Tiny’, for example) but almost all had heart. It is not a step forward in teen movie scriptwriting to expose a school bully’s history as a sexual abuse victim for mirth, or to make a running gag out of one student’s closeted homosexuality, nor pitch the felonious actions of the blonde teen queen as the height of coolness.
The film was obviously constructed as a star vehicle for Hayden Panettiere, the fulsome-beyond-her-years starlet who was hot for a split-second thanks to the one-season wonder TV series, Heroes. She’s photogenic, granted, but dimensionless and has minimal screen presence – the final reel about-face that is synonymous with these types of films rings as false as a plastic bell. Her co-star, Paul Rust, is game but drawn so broadly he never amounts to more than a comic foil, well below the romantic lead the film asks him to become. And shame on the producers for casting Ferris’ best friend Cameron (Alan Ruck) in the 'cool father’ role – it’s a very easy way to put 40-something film reviewers in a very bad mood...
That the whole sodden mess is directed by Chris Columbus, another fondly-remembered talent from 25 years ago, is just plain bewildering. That the man who scripted Gremlins (1984) and The Goonies (1985) and directed Home Alone (1990) and Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) could have overseen this debacle is beyond the pale. Given that his directorial debut A Night on the Town (1987) was one of the funniest, fish-out-of-water tales from the '80s, it is unfathomable that I Love You, Beth Cooper should be so lacking in charm, tempo and warmth of any kind. It so desperately wants to be an '80s high-school romp, yet comes across as a film made by people who have never even seen one.