You suck, Chris Columbus ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Thursday, September 10, 2009

You suck, Chris Columbus

I Love You, Beth Cooper
My rating:

This movie has a surprising pedigree. It's based on a novel by Larry Doyle, former writer for The Simpsons and Beavis and Butt-head as well as Looney Tunes: Back in Action. The book has gotten some pretty rave reviews, and has even won a Thurber Prize (apparently some high mucky-muck literary award for humour writing). And Doyle adapted it himself for the screenplay. So yeah, this movie had a lot of potential...

...until its director got his dirty hands on it.

While giving his valedictorian speech, Denis Cooverman (Paul Rust) declares his love for long-time crush Beth Cooper (Hayden Panettiere). This leads to an eventful graduation night with Beth, his possibly-gay best friend Rich (Jack Carpenter), and Beth's friends Cammy (Lauren London) and Treece (Lauren Storm). Whilst avoiding Beth's violently jealous boyfriend Kevin (Shawn Roberts) - amongst other adventures - Denis and Beth get to know one another and find out things about each other that they never expected.

I quite like the premise actually. I've had my high school crushes (as has everyone, I'm sure), and I can empathize with Denis' reasons for giving his none-too-wise speech to the entire graduating class. (He says a few more things that he's never dared to, to a few more people, and they don't take it as well as Beth did.) And I quite like teen movies in general - those years were the most formative in everyone's life, and someone who can no longer relate to a teen movie is someone who's really gotten old. So I was pretty primed to enjoy this film, but around half an hour in I'd already decided to give it two stars. Because I was getting annoyed by it.

See, this movie's idea of funny is to have Denis and Rich act like total morons. Not that I have anything against total morons - total morons are funny - but Denis and Rich are made out to be total morons in ways that make it hard to root for them like the downtrodden everygeeks they're supposed to be. When Beth and co. visit Denis' house, Rich waves around a string of condoms and Denis walks funny because he has a hard-on. They are annoying, and this also hurts the (supposedly) burgeoning relationship between Denis and Beth. The movie sacrifices genuine romance for cheap laughs every time.

And cheap is pretty much the only kind of laugh you'll get. It has a remarkably contemptuous attitude towards its audience's intelligence. There's one part where Denis attempts to imitate Beth and open a beer bottle with his teeth - and naturally, he breaks a tooth. Har de har har, fuh-nee; but then Beth picks up the tooth and goes, "Is that your tooth?" Why, yes, yes it is, thanks for the reminder. Later on there's a scene where an animatronic squirrel hisses and makes Denis and Beth scream and run away. We are inexplicably asked to laugh at this. And then there's the bit where we are also expected to laugh at the emotional outpouring of a character whom it is implied is a child sexual abuse victim.

How could this happen? How could a Thurber Prize-winning novel be turned into such a limp dishrag of a movie? The blame could lie on no other feet but director Chris Columbus'. The man has an entirely lunk-headed approach to humour and sentimentality, and can only depict either in the cheapest and most hackneyed manner possible. It's shocking that he was once considered the heir apparent to Steven Spielberg. You can't even blame Doyle for the lousy parts of the script; Columbus must surely have done a little rewriting, since he does at times fancy himself a screenwriter. I said before in my Harry Potter retrospective that he'll be known mostly for directing the two worst Harry Potter films, and this movie only confirms my prediction.

Panettiere gives the best performance in this film, which is actually saying quite a lot. The role calls for quite a wide range, and she successfully delivers each emotional note - which is better than the movie deserves. Rust, however, doesn't fare as well; the 28-year-old actor does look a bit too old to play a teenager, and again he plays Denis as just too annoying and pathetic. Carpenter has less to lift, and does an adequate comic-relief sidekick. Everyone else is pretty much inconsequential. (Except that Lauren Storm bears an uncanny resemblance to Amanda Seyfried, and plays virtually the same role Seyfried did in Mean Girls. I'm tempted to think Columbus simply told the casting director, "Get me an Amanda Seyfried in Mean Girls.")

I'm also compelled to mention our precious Lembaga Penapisan Filem's savaging of this movie. Several jokes had their payoff completely snipped, and I swear at one point they even censored the word "asshole". Proving once again that those guys are just simply only.

Aside from Panettiere, the movie's other saving grace is towards the ending, when Beth finally reveals her true self, fears, faults and vulnerabilities all; and Denis accepts her and reassures her of her self-worth. It's an effectively sweet scene, made with good writing and (Panettiere's) acting. But it ultimately can't redeem the movie. There really is a seed of a good teen romantic comedy here, in the story of a nerd whose idealised vision of his dream girl is shattered, only to fall for the real person behind it. Unfortunately, Chris Columbus got his dirty hands on it.

NEXT REVIEW: Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
Anticipation level: I know next to nothing about it