Based on Larry Doyle's Thurber Prize-winning novel of the same name and adapted by the author as well, I Love You, Beth Cooper is exactly the sort of innocuous graduation-night comedy that one would expect coming from director Chris Columbus, whose inert inability with actors and composition has only faded since his 1990 box-office monolith Home Alone. His last film, the risible adaptation of the long-running stage musical Rent, horrendously oversaturated Jonathan Larson's poverty-stricken bohemian tale with rote sentimentality. I Love You is lighter on the saccharine over-emoting but is equal to that film's convoluted shallowness and bloated melodrama. Article continues below
Denis Cooverman (Paul Rust) pronounces the titular declaration about five minutes into the film, embarrassing bombshell Beth (Hayden Panettiere of Heroes) and his movie-quoting best bud Rich (Jack Carpenter) and his questionable sexuality. Allowed the pleasure of hosting Beth and her girlfriends, Cooverman -- "The Coove" as Rich calls him -- becomes the target of her jacked-up, coke-snorting alpha boyfriend Kevin (Shawn Roberts). Graduation night then becomes a midnight run as Cooper, with her Grand Theft Auto driving skills and propensity for making out with gas clerks to score some brews, proceeds to show The Coove a good time.
Much of the humor in Doyle's novel came from the speed and wit of Denis' inner monologue, a factor that Columbus has jettisoned for a few awkwardly placed flashbacks and Rust's uneven gawkiness. In Panettiere's hands, Cooper is all loose morals and bad decisions wrapped up in a cleavage-promoting red dress and a pair of panties with "Hello!" written in pink on the front. She's a hellcat, or so we are asked to believe; few films in recent memory have documented youth, booze, and sex whilst simultaneously neutering the excitement and seductive anticipation of all three. When the most risqué moment in a sex comedy involves two consenting adults and a vibrating phone, something's amiss.
Less geek fantasy than Disneyland, Columbus's tone is wildly inconsistent, swinging from PG gross-out to tearjerker often within the span of a minute. Kevin and his henchmen boast superhero abilities of strengthm yet a plastic lightsaber gives the military-bred antagonist pause. Much of the film makes no sense and is startlingly unfunny, but it's actually the central geek vs. hottie coupling that poses the most absurd leap of faith. Late in the film, Panettiere says that most men would only love her until they saw her "Hello!" but that The Coove is different. However, at no moment did I understand why Rust's character loves the cheerleader past the obvious geek fantasy, and neither Columbus nor Doyle, an erstwhile Simpsons scribe, seems to care. Ultimately, it is not Denis' feelings for Beth Cooper but rather the audience's that Columbus seems to be concerned with.