In Regards to Your Film, ‘I Love You, Beth Cooper’

By  · Published on July 12th, 2009

**As with any open letter review, there are definitely a few spoilers.**

To Whom It May Concern:

Despite the pretty generic nature of the movie that you’ve made, I Love You, Beth Cooper, I’m really surprised to be addressing you this way. It’s one thing to make a stock comedy with stock characters doing stock things, and it’s another thing to make a rambling, directionless comedy that has probably one full laugh per hour. The first of many, many questions I have for you is Why? Why would you do this to us? Why would you do this to the high school genre?

Chris Columbus, you know better than this.

Correct me if I’m wrong: after foolishly declaring his love for a girl he’s sat behind (but never talked to) in front of the entire school, Denis Cooverman (Paul Rust) is surprised when Beth Cooper (Hayden Panettiere) actually shows up at his door that night and they both spend the evening realizing what a terrible, awful, uninteresting person she is (while running from her insane boyfriend) and they fall in love anyway.

This is one serious mess of a movie. It’s not very often that I walk out of a theater wishing that an entire artform hadn’t been invented, but that’s the only scenario I could imagine that would create a world where this movie doesn’t exist. The plot is inconceivable, the acting is dull, and the side characters are cliches that add zero heart to an otherwise flat-lining flick.

But I, and the entire scientific community, do need to congratulate you on one achievement. You’ve proven Einstein’s theory by taking an hour and a half run-time and making it feel like the entire month of July. In the same vein as that great thinker, I’d rather hold my hand down on a hot stove than watch this movie again, but instead of just attacking you, I’d rather explain what went wrong.

Here are just a few thoughts:

From your opening scene you lost a major amount of momentum by introducing a character who should be a nerd but finds the courage to face an entire graduating class with an idiotic speech about how much he loves a girl he doesn’t know. Why do you lose momentum? Because you present the character not as he normally is, so the next time we see him, we have to learn what he’s really like. Essentially, you present Denis as pretty ballsy dude who somehow instantly reverts into a spineless pussy that’s less endearing than he is completely annoying. This is only matched in idiocy by your introduction to Beth Cooper – who is supposedly the most popular girl in school, despite the fact that you disprove this on your own later – which essentially involves her saying something bitchy and removing her graduation gown to reveal she’s the first person in the history of ever to wear orange hot pants under her academic regalia.

And in a weird way, you’ve made the movie in reverse. Within the first few moments, the main character makes his grand gesture and gets the girl’s attention. The rest of the film slides down an aimless path because he’s already really achieved what he wanted to. After that, he has an evening of zero fun, yet still emerges on the other side pining for a girl who has told him nothing about her personality except that she has really low self-esteem probably due to the fact that she’s a waste of a human being.

During this time, none of the jokes work. You approach the humor of this movie like a twelve-year-old that’s discovered the word ‘queef’ for the first time and doesn’t understand why no one else finds it as shocking as he does. This movie straight up giggles at itself even when the jokes are about as tame as a kindergarten class. A piece of advice – either take it to the R-level, show some boobs, and make some really crass jokes or scale it back to PG-town and make a family-friendly comedy about young love. Keeping it somewhere in the middle made the entire thing feel lopsided and uneven. And that’s when it was making sense. Most of the time it’s just confused.

The reason for that confusion, as I’m sure you’re well aware now, is that there is no goal in the entire movie. The only thing remotely close to one is for Denis to win Beth Cooper over but 1) they spend the entire evening together inexplicably and 2) the more we learn about Beth Cooper, the more it should be obvious that getting her to like you is tantamount to punching a rabid dog in the mouth.

You must have realized that you were creating one of the most unlikable (let alone unlovable) characters in the history of high school films, right? Beth Cooper as a character should be playing the bitchy girl that no one likes but is super popular. You attempt to trump her bitchiness and insanity by having another bitchy girl that attempts to out-bitch her, but making her seem slightly less bitchy does not make her a compelling love interest. I’m still struggling to figure out why she’s likable. Because she makes out with a gas station attendant for beer in front of the guy that likes her? Because she drives super recklessly for no reason? Because she was named after a KISS song? Because she is heading off to community college (if she can afford it) and thinks that she’s peaked in high school? In fact, the only reasonable conclusion is that the movie teaches one of the most insidious lessons of filmdom:

If you are really cute, you can be a complete asshole and still get the geek of your world to dote on you senselessly.

Oh, and as if that character wasn’t fucked up in the first place, the casting is so far off I can’t imagine what the thought process behind it was. I can’t believe I’m saying this, and I hate myself and you for doing this to me, but I’ve never longed to see Megan Fox in a role more than while watching your movie. Hayden Panettiere isn’t hot. She’s cute. That’s not a bad thing, except she’s supposed to be the hottest girl in school, the head cheerleader, the sexiest thing on the planet. Instead, Panettiere tries way, way too hard to be sexy which, as all intelligent storytellers know, is the least sexy thing on the planet. Yes, I’m sure you’ve succeeded in getting a clip of her side boob on the internet (as well as a clip somewhere with Panettiere’s Beth asking Denis if she’s everything he’s ever masturbated to), but did you have to make an entire movie to do that? It seems like there were far cheaper ways to get her to take her top off and be “edgy.”

Since your main characters are lame, I suppose it actually makes sense that your side characters are pointless too. Denis’s best friend Rich has nothing to do the entire movie except bust out movie quotes (and then tell them what movie they’re from, who the director is, and what year it came out. It never gets old!) and have other characters tell him they think he’s gay. He’s a big, gay Internet Movie Database that’s in the closet for no reason. Seriously – what guy flamboyantly joins the cheerleaders for a routine, feigns interest in getting them naked in the showers, and lies to himself so thoroughly about his sexuality? Especially when he has no reason to? It would have been one thing to make his actions ambiguous while he’s questioning his sexuality, but he says he wants to kiss a guy at a certain point and proceeds to still deny being gay (while everyone questions him every few minutes) for the rest of the runtime.

Meanwhile, Beth’s sidekicks don’t even deserve mention. A big-boobed slut and a girl that has maybe a whole line until she magically shows a personality? Wow.

It’s as if you guys read a list of high school film cliches and then got them wrong. You weren’t even clever enough to make the film cliched. You even messed that up.

So where did this all go wrong? Part of me wants to believe that someone else directed this movie, like maybe Mr. Columbus’s 14-year-old nephew, but you had to slap his name on it because of Director’s Guild rules. I won’t pretend to know where the first wrong turn was taken, but my intuition says that next time you want a novel adapted, you shouldn’t ask the author of the novel itself. From what I hear, Larry Doyle’s novel is actually fairly heartfelt and interesting, but damn if that guy can’t work his way around a screenplay.

So, for the future, characters need reason for doing things, they need goals to achieve even if the only goal is delving deep into their personalities, and guys and audiences don’t actually like asshole girls who aren’t all that hot. Actually, don’t worry about the future, because I won’t be watching anything written by Doyle, and I’ll probably think twice if Christopher Columbus’s name is on the top bill. And, yes, so you know – the part of me that loves Home Alone weeps at that prospect. Perhaps the biggest lesson of this movie is that trust is an easy thing to lose.

Yours respectfully,

Cole Abaius, PhD

Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector [email protected] | Writing short stories at Adventitious.