Chris Columbus used to have a magic touch. Sure, you might not have liked the movies, but he was the hand behind the first two Home Alone movies and the first two Harry Potter films. He’s had misfires, for sure, but his first major script was Gremlins. Gremlins. But when you look at his filmography he goes from highs to lows, but there’s something of a chance-taker in him too. He was the guy who wanted to direct Rent, for god’s sake. And though his plastic hands have released such odious affairs as Stepmom and Bicentennial Man, he’s not a filmmaker to write off. My review of his latest – I Love You Beth Cooper – after the jump.
For his latest, he worked with Fox, got a midsummer release date, and when the film came out it was dumped like hot garbage. Perhaps it was having an unknown lead, and Hayden Panettiere, not so hot off her run in Heroes. Paul Rust stars as Paul Cooverman, the valedictorian who in his speech to the graduating class tells everyone he loves Beth Cooper (Panettiere), and others that they might be anorexic, or violent because of childhood traumas, or bitchy because they’re vacuous. It’s an inciting speech, and even his best friend Rick Munsch (Jack T. Carpenter) is called out as a homosexual. Post-speech Beth comes to Paul to give him some crap, but he also invites him over to his house for a party.
As Paul sets up, it’s apparent that Rick is the only guest, but Paul’s parents (Alan Ruck, Cynthia Stevenson) leave him the house and his father ups the ante by giving him champagne and condoms. Beth comes over and the party is more pathetic than imaginable, but then Beth’s boyfriend Kevin (Shawn Roberts) shows up ready to beat ass. And he’s supposedly on some upper, so he storms into the house and starts breaking everything he can. Such leads Paul and Rick into Beth’s arms, along with Beth’s friends Cammy (Lauren London) and Treece (Lauren Storm). And thus begins their night together, where the two realize things about each other they didn’t learn in high school.
Starting from the place of Say Anything, I Love You Beth Cooper has a great hook, but Columbus often lets the comedy get in the way of the heart. Whether this was inherent in the material by Larry Doyle is unknown from what’s on screen, but Paul Cooverman remains a putzer on screen throughout, and at few points does he ever come across as a male character. In this way ILYBC is much like many romantic comedies where the male character is fundamentally playing the female part of past romances, as he has no aggressive drive, and Cooper leads their romance. At no point does Columbus turn this into a coming of age story, as deep into the third act Paul like a wussy when confronted with a raccoon or anything halfway threatening. If this was somehow a commentary on romantic comedies, this might work, but because we are meant to empathize with the character, at no point does he achieve a level of relatability. He never pulls a trigger until the very end. This is why the supporting cast fares much better, with Carpenter and the Laurens London and Storm stealing the movie out from under the leads. When Carpenter’s Rick – who obnoxiously is “the movie guy” – ends up in a towel snapping competition the film briefly comes alive, as the tone seems about right.
But the film is filled with rampant destruction, the sorts of things that it would be easy to arrest people for, and the film treats them like no big deal. When stuff like this happens, it makes me think that the director has no sense of the comic dimensions of what they’re doing, or have been too rich to understand how devastating something that might cause $500 worth of damage might be. That said, the film ends horribly well, and if you enjoy watching this sort of movie, there are moments here and there that suggest the material could have been beaten into shape. But the film is a misfire from Mr. Columbus, and one hopes he finds a stronger voice in his next project.
Twentieth Century Fox’s Blu-ray presents the film in widescreen (1.78:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 surround. The transfer is as to be expected: perfect for what it is. Extras kick off with an alternate ending that gives closure to Paul’s toughness (7 min.), and four deleted scenes (8 min.) that slightly alter the film in no great memorable way. “I love You Larry Doyle” (6 min.) gives the writer his due, while “We are all different, but that’s a Good Thing” (9 min.) puts a spotlight on the cast, and everyone thinks everyone else is great. “Peanut Butter Toast” (3 min.) is Paul Rust’s goofy audition, while “In Character with Paul Rust” (3 min.) lets the actor talk about coming up with the character (self explanatory? Yes) as does “IN Character with Hayden Panettiere” (3 min.). The disc wraps up with bonus trailers.