I Love You, Beth Cooper:
Graduating teens having a 'life changing' night is a shopworn genre. Ever since American Graffiti, viewers can expect at least two major releases of this kind per year. The films are comfortable, but since they're so familiar they can bore or stink with a quickness. Luckily, films like Beth Cooper come along, films smart enough to know they're not high art, and clever enough to overturn conventions, meaning at the end of the night you might not be changed, but you won't feel cheated.
Usually these types of things are a slow-burn until the pivotal moment - 'gotta take that risk before the dawn, boy!' - think Dazed And Confused for instance. Beth Cooper turns that all upside down as right at the start of the movie class valedictorian Dennis Cooverman (Paul Rust) proclaims his love to Beth Cooper (Hayden Panettiere) during graduation ceremonies. Cooper, the hottest thing in the school, is suitably nonplussed, since Cooverman is a grade-A geek, and she's never heard of him. Yet something about his moxie intrigues her enough that she and her mini-entourage agree to go to his graduation party. As events roll quickly downhill we learn a whole lot about Cooper, Cooverman, and nearly everyone else they encounter.
For starters, there's Cooper's boyfriend and his bruising buddies to contend with. A deadly trio that establishes director Chris Columbus' intent: sure, he's going to feed you a message about being true to yourself and taking risks, but he knows what he's working with, so he's going to give you a barely-grounded-in-reality farce as well. And just like getting a Porsche as a graduation present, Columbus and screenwriter Larry Doyle give you plenty of laughs. After Cooverman's coolly hilarious graduation address, things really go off the rails as enraged boyfriend of Cooper, Kevin, (Shawn Roberts) attacks Cooverman at his home. It's a skeleton-arms-as-nunchakus vs. lightsaber kind of battle, and if you can get behind that as being as ridiculously funny as it is, then Columbus has you in his hands.
Some silliness is a bit hard to swallow, such as Cooper's inexplicably suicidal driving style; kill yourself if you want girl, but don't take your friends down too. Yet each new bit of buffoonery leads to good stuff like Cooverman's friend Rich, (Jack Carpenter) fearing for his life, stating, "I'm the least notable person in the car, I'll be referred to as '5th student." Similar laugh lines and jaw-dropping scenarios keep coming at you, meaning if you never really connect with the characters, it doesn't really matter. Rust is certainly likable, he's not egregiously endearing, but he's self-possessed enough that you're never too concerned as to whether he gets the girl or not. Meanwhile Panettiere certainly walks the walk of the high school 'it' girl, and she brings enough compassion that you believe in what she sees in Cooverman. She's attracted to his 'who cares' confidence, but you can tell she might just view him as some kind of project, or maybe a defense against her own darker side.
Then again, Beth Cooper is not a serious movie, to which Humvee terrorism and other bizarre things (like having Alan fricking Ruck of Ferris Bueller fame playing Cooverman's father) can attest. As Columbus takes a too-familiar genre, flips it and twists it, viewers can enjoy the farcical ride. Yes, deep points are made and lives are changed, but recreating Errol Flynn movies with boners is also a subject of discussion. How's that for a message movie?
Beth Cooper arrives in the usual 1.85:1 widescreen ratio. Fox's final product has all the earmarks of your standard studio release DVD. Picture is sharp and clear, detail levels are good for DVD, and no serious problems, as far as compression is concerned, are apparent. In addition, the print used shows no damage, and colors are fairly vibrant.
Fox provides English Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio, and Spanish and French Dolby Digital 2.1 Surround Sound Audio tracks. The 5.1 mix fairly active for a comedy, dialog is up front and easy to understand, while aggressive pop songs in the soundtrack are fairly loud, but not quite loud enough to necessitate riding the volume control.
A seven-minute Alternate Ending is supposedly closer to the source novel than the theatrical edit, providing an interesting look into Hollywood-ization. Seven minutes of Deleted Scenes are more in line with scene extensions that add a tiny bit of character depth. A six-minute I Love You, Larry Doyle featurette comprises a compelling talk with novelist and screenwriter Doyle, while We Are All Different, But That's A Good Thing is about ten minutes of behind-the-scenes EPK stuff - not terribly interesting. Peanut Butter Toast is a weird, three-minute improv song from Paul Rust. Fox Movie Channel Presents Hayden Panettiere and Fox Movie Channel Presents Paul Rust are a pair of really light, three-minute interviews with the stars. Trailers, Spanish Subtitles, English SDH and Closed Captioning finish things off. A layer shift at about the 1:05 mark is fairly noticeable.
Director Chris Columbus isn't giving us anything revolutionary with I Love You, Beth Cooper, an adaptation of a Larry Doyle novel that goes back to the well of 'high school graduates have a life-changing evening'. Since the set-up is old, the movie's only as good as the comic material presented. Yes, there are deep messages, but outrageous farce and serious silliness are the real attractions. Oddly, Beth Cooper shapes up as a love-it-or-hate-it movie. A box-office dud, the movie asks you to check at least sections of your brain at the door. If you do, you'll have a good time, earning Beth Cooper and enthusiastic Rent It rating.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com