x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

I Love You, Beth Cooper

Chris Columbus's clichéd high school comedy goes to the bottom of the class.

Starring: Hayden Panettiere, Jack T Carpenter, Paul Rust A great set-up provides false hope for this high school comedy that is a little bit too clever and self-knowing for its own good. The geek Denis Cooverman (Paul Rust) has spent four years at high school harbouring a crush on the cheerleader Beth Cooper (Hayden Panettiere), the popular girl who has no idea who he is. As Denis steps up to make a speech at his graduation, there is a flashback to his best friend, Rich (Jack T Carpenter), in the library persuading Denis to make his feelings known to the world, or face a lifetime of wondering what if. As the bumbling teenager makes his play, his dad looks on with an expression of knowing bemusement - Dad being played by none other than Alan Ruck, still most famous for his turn as the vulnerable teenager Cameron Frye in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. The student reels off all the clichés of The Breakfast Club as he calls out his best friend and other stereotypical teenagers in his speech before declaring "I love you, Beth Cooper".

The film never lives up to the opening scene. It turns out that Beth is not the wholesome all-American teen that Denis has imagined her to be. Hayden Panettiere, in the titular role, continually slams the wrong note in her attempt to establish a movie career on the back of her success in Heroes. She is supposed to be a wild child, a rebel we can adore, but more often than not appears to be just another brat as she drives her car like a maniac, ventures to Denis's lame house party and avoids the local jock (Shawn Roberts). The chemistry between her and Denis is zero, which is hardly surprising as the principal male protagonist is such a stereotypical dork that he doesn't seem real. It's Denis's movie-quoting pal Rich who is the light relief. He can attribute nearly every sentence spoken to a film, and it's interesting to note that he cites classics such as Casablanca, Risky Business, Scarface, Dead's Poet's Society and The Princess Bride. This film is likely to fade from memory much faster.

In the tradition of Ferris Bueller, St Elmo's Fire and Some Kind of Wonderful, the story takes place over one night, as Beth and Denis seem fated to spend the evening hanging out with Beth's two best friends and Rich. There is even a Wayne's World rip-off as the quintet sings Alice Cooper's School's Out in the car. The film has the same episodic structure as the director Chris Columbus's debut, Adventures in Babysitting, but none of the charm. Columbus, who also made Home Alone and the first two Harry Potter films, is stuck in a no-man's-land between the outrageous comedy of Weird Science and the love-struck characters of Pretty in Pink. Indeed, high school movies are usually the lifeblood of young directors trying to break into the industry. Why Columbus would choose at this stage in his career to make such puerile and uninspiring nonsense is the main dilemma posed by this dud.