RIORI Vol 3, Installment 51: Chris Columbus’ “I Love You, Beth Cooper” (2009)


ILoveYouBethCooper-PosterArt_CR


The Players…

Paul Rust, Hayden Panettiere, Jack Carpenter, Lauren Storm, Lauren London and Shawn Roberts, with Alan Ruck and Cynthia Stevenson.


The Story…

No real surprise, but nerdy high school valedictorian Denis knows how to work an opportunity. He uses his graduation speech to express his adoration for his crush Beth Cooper. Oh, brother. However instead of getting spurned, Denis gets the shock of his life when his shameless exaltation actually works, and Beth responds in kind showing up on his doorstep that very night.

How’s that for geek chic?


The Rant…

Like the late, great John Holmes may have said, “This one might get a little long.”

Now then…

I remember my first crush. Hell, I remember both of them.

When I first heard the Replacements’ Pleased To Meet Me album I was—

Sorry, wrong crush. Things get muddled. High school was a long time ago for me, after all.

So ahem, chapter one. Middle school. Been there, done that, wouldn’t want to go there again. Safe bet that you out there may agree with such. Onset of puberty. Those lovely awkward years of growth spurts, acne breakouts like a plague of rubella, deodorant quick becoming a necessity to life and the occasional, uncomfortable, embarrassing reason to decline using the lavatory no matter how much choco milk your drained at lunchtime. Ah yes, the good ol’ days.

In seasons past I’ve talked about my time as a bando. From junior high well into my college years I was a sax slinger. Wanted to learn the instrument when I first heard INXS’ Kirk Pengilly wail at just the right times when Michael Hutchence and friends needed a little swing. I took notice. True, my ears weren’t sharp to Coltrane then, but it was the late 80s and I was twelve so please give me some wiggle room.

I’ll spare you the crap about my meteoric rise to sax savant in school band (because it didn’t happen). Dubious musical influences notwithstanding, I enlisted in my middle school’s band. Being honest, back then I got into my 12-year old head that signing up was a good way to keep up with friends. Consider it, new school, mixed with strangers, awkward and self-conscious. Best keep your best mates about you. Helped we all shared a similar interest.

Girls. Regardless of Kirk’s influence, the opportunity to make new acquaintances had quite the appeal on me and my boys’ hormone-addled mindfields. Chances were good that you already botched it, you probably already stained your sheets with the girls who already knew what a tool you were. Here’s a chance to beign anew, phoenix-like, wiping the slate clean from any clumsy advances made in the lesser grades.

Yeah. Right. Of course all that jazz—so to speak—wasn’t really true, but it didn’t hurt that I was friends with a sweet girl who took up the sax in elementary school and we both thought it was cool. Cool is always a relative term.

Out of some kind of inane displacement, I gathered being a bando was cool. Look at Benny Goodman or Tommy Dorsey. Those guys made your grandparents swing and without them, to some basal level, your parents and you wouldn’t be here. Along that line of thinking, hell, take a look at Mick Jagger. He seems to be doing okay for his rotting age, and he once married a supermodel. So yeah, music can make the ladies swoon. At 12 I was just wanting to pull those cool licks from “Take Five” and maybe score a wink or two from some band dorks from the fairer sex on the side with my ragged prowess. Later I might’ve tried for “Satisfaction.”

It all worked. Kinda. And not from Brubeck this. Or Jagger that.

Who shall we call her this week? We’ll call her Anne. She played clarinet, second cousin to the sax which meant not categorically that we were meant to be. Or at least ogle each other for a time. I was 12, she 13 and that lavatory crap from before held ready meaning then.

Truth be told, Anne was average-looking save a darling smile and long auburn hair. Freckly cheeks, too. It’s funny what sticks, especially when one sets the way-back machine so far to middle school. A little Vaseline on the lens of memory. Harmless. She caught my eye nonetheless. Besides the physical features, I couldn’t tell you why she caught my eye, but she did.

I think it was because I caught her eye first. This may come as a shock—like pro wrestling isn’t real or rice is indeed gluten-free—but I am and was never what you would call a “catch,” even and especially during those Clearasil-spackled years. My wife feels otherwise. God bless her. Anyway, yeah, it wasn’t immediate, but now and again during band practice I caught her…smiling at me. Free as you please. Even on the days I skipped a shower (dumb move in 7th grade). This may not make me a catch by any stretch of the word beyond deep sea fishing, but the fact I caught a girl’s attention? Life is beginning. All those days with Brubeck were paying off.

This, as you may have gathered, was naive, adolescent bullsh*t. Such head-in-the-clouds ideas are always doomed to failure. Read: get your bubble burst instead of something more precious. Me? Awkward, geeky me? No way, he said in a cracking voice. But love is blind, or mostly limping. I tried to talk to Anne (never with. I was 12; par for the course), get near her, smell her hair. The usual. She had nice 7th grade breasts and that helped my doomed infatuation further. Like I said, funny what sticks.

Here’s where the weak-willed crush ended. Ready? What? So soon? Hey, middle school remember? Ingrid Michaelson. Girls chase boys chase girls. Circle of life in junior high social scenes. For a bando dork like me (and Anne by extension) any brush with the opposite sex that wasn’t scornful scored points to any 12-year old’s fragile ego. It was swift as it was lovely and eventually brutal. Again, to a 12-year old. Weep with me.

The annual orchestra concert had ended. For some odd reason to this day I’ve never figured out why my middle school’s orchestra had saxophones. My theory was either that the band director needed to beef up the limited horn section or to give everybody equal screen time. Whatever it was, Anne not only played clarinet but also violin. Multi-talented. My only other creative expression outside of sax back then was beating The Legend Of Zelda: The Adventure Of Link in record time.

The show went well. After the performance we all queued out, stage left (literally) to our pleased parents’ smiles. I remember my dad was waiting in the hall. I recall this particular fact because he usually worked nights and mom days. This wasn’t his usual thing, and seemed unsure how to express anything but pride about the show. I guess I figured in there somewhere. All was well.

While we were heading down the corridor to my father pleasantly chatting about the performance, me with sax case in tow, I felt a brush at my elbow. I turned and there was Anne, keeping up with my stride and smiling at me. Smiling, toting her violin case. I didn’t know what to do, so I did nothing save smile back feeling warm. She scurried ahead and made for the main exit. Now I know that Anne lived a scant few blocks from the school. I often watched her walk home, and not is some “Every Breath You Take” kind of way, shut up. 12, dammit. I knew INXS, not The Police. Geek.

I had a half-crazy thought to ask my dad to offer up her a ride home. All three blocks. So gallant. I said nothing, and watched her walk home alone down the hill, violin case in hand.

Bitterly romantic, right? Bzzzt. Check your crib notes. I blew that one. It could’ve been nice—maybe lead to something—if I had said something. Instead I didn’t. Too much of a self-conscious puss. One last time: I was 12. Should come as no surprise that Anne later started dated the cool, smooth dude who also played horn in band and sang tenor in the chorale group. Needless to say I couldn’t sing in any accessible fashion, and beyond INXS screeching Def Leppard’s Hysteria album cover to cover in the newly discovered shower did not engender me towards lead tenor material.

12, I tell you. 12!

Chapter two, and I know. Don’t think I’m not aware certain entries here at RIORI go a little long. I’m just exercising my right to creative freedom, as all bloggers do. And trust me, all my personal baggage has in some way a sliver of relevance to this week’s potential trainwreck. In all honesty though, I really don’t give a sh*t how long I ramble if I feel it might be entertaining. Or at least a purge. Or just a laugh on me. Whatever gets you thru the night. This section’s titled “The Rant,” after all. It’s really all just in good fun. And thank Harlan Ellison’s mother for the chicken soup.

Anywho, on to high school. Dum dum dum.

Okay. Now this is really pathetic. My first “proper” crush. Prepare to cringe.

Still in band (where else? The Hamptons?). It was where my buddies were. I (finally) got keen to Charlie Parker, so at least my ears were trying to aim in the right direction. Also got hip to Rush, which might’ve been a boon to my musical curiosity or more likely a reason to be anathema to the opposite sex. A lot of the same sex, too, now that I think about it. No matter. I had my friends. I had my sax. Both were there everyday in band homeroom, as well as our sadistic band director. Bitter with the sweet and all that rot.

Once more the social sphere grew wider. There were only two high schools in the district (barring the local, vaunted Catholic high school. More on that later. No there won’t), so again more new faces. To me it was kind of like the Ark disembarking. I met a lot of cool new bandos, with all their odd musical opinions and passions in tow. Some of those freaks and geeks were even—gasp—girls. Girls who never knew of my inept but well-meaning mooning over Anne (who moved away to the other district between junior and senior high. And yet she returned my junior year. I am but a pawn in the game of life such heathen gods play).

It was customary in August to become entrenched in the short bus version of basic training known as “band camp” for all incoming bandos. Learning the songs and ensuing marching routines for halftime during football games. Decide which “chair” what player would be best suited. Get acclimated with all the new faces. Hear the tales of grue about the aforementioned maniac band director. Know where to smoke caged cigarettes. Going over the inevitable inventory within the incestuous nature of bando relations about who was going with/f*cking whom.

That last thing I was neither. See a pattern forming here?

Again, it’s no real matter in retrospect. A safe distance from high school (eg: college/work force) often takes a squeegee to your mind’s eye. But when you’re in the thick of it, high school social bonding is the f*cking Force. Binds the universe together, with a light and dark side. Like duct tape. Who you go with in certain circles will dictate the majority of how you are perceived/identified in the greater social sphere. I was in band. Since middle school. Since elementary school. Let the noogies commence. Don’t worry though. Those wounds only last until the grave. That was the lot I drew.

I had my safe social haven in band. Most of the buds I made in middle school crossed over, and a whole slew of others spilled over into the high school band microcosm. One big happy. Did I mention new females came into the fray, including my future wife? No? Well this ain’t about her. It’s about another.

This time out I’ll call her *aims at existential dartboard* Bob.

My aim sucks. I dub her Andrea. I was enraptured.

Funny mentioning the Vaseline and the lens, years back I had thumbed through my old high school yearbooks. Partially for nostalgia and also curiosity. All those late teen faces. Our period hairstyles. The “senior superlatives” (I was awarded biggest mouth. I know, right?). The scowls (well maybe just me). I happened upon the snap of my old crush and cocked a brow. I asked myself, “What was I looking at then?” I’m not saying Andrea wasn’t pretty. She was, but decades later the scales fall away. Any smart, spurned idiot would have to ask himself what the hell was the big deal about?

Sex on a regular basis makes for a greater squeegee, for starters.

That aspect of getting with the opposite sex—as we all must learn—starts with low-hanging fruit. Low is where you start as a frosh in high school. And I could care less about your overachieving big bro in junior year who defined pi on an Etch-A-Sketch whom you shall eternally answer after. And never end a statement with a preposition. High school can be a cornucopia of opportunity to—let’s be frank—score some tail with the groundswell of new bodies flowing into the aforementioned new circle of friends. Or victims. Ha.

Band camp was just such a crucible in high school. Sure, we’d all learn about music and marching and who was from where and where to go and where to get. Most importantly, we’d all eventually get to know who’d be our friends. It’s like that in any close circle of people who share interests. Be it footballers, drama wierdos or diehard music dorks hell-bent on getting the latest release at midnight (this was pre-iTunes, mind you) before other people could barely care less about your sh*t. If you read this without snickering a little you have no soul or are a dropout with an innate lack of the snickering gene.

Where was I?

Right. Andrea. Never figured out my infatuation, even many years later. It just…came. Okay. Physical attraction came first, naturally. Come to think of it, that was the only thing then. My fevered teenaged mind filled in the blanks for what may come later. Glorious flights of fancy about dates, dances, intimate conversations about vital adolescent concerns like Pearl Jam and NAFTA and satisfying my demented carnal impulses as only clumsy, hard-up 15-year old boy could conjure in the seething cauldron of hormones we’ll call an imagination. Stuff like that. A simple hug might’ve worked in the longview.

She was cute. That was it. Cute. That was all it took. That and some je ne sais quoi. She was quiet, almost shy. Demure. I recalled she smiled often, and almost always responded to a question with a sweet smile. She didn’t talk much. It took me until sophomore year to hear her voice at all. All this rigamarole equated the perfect specimen for my romantic fantasies. Quiet and unassuming, mirrioring my geeky self-consciousness. And I thought her cute. Did I mention that?

I was terrified of her.

I assumed her to be gentle, unassuming. Lots of pillows on the bed. Probably liked Lisa Loeb. Perhaps Diane Court territory. Still, she paralyzed me. She played sax, too, and of course was around me constantly in band camp—and later band homeroom—learning the ropes as I was. Any thinking hornball male would’ve killed—or at least maimed—for such an opportunity to be in tight proximity of the object of his affection. Me? Mostly I just ogled her, too afraid to talk, even about band shop. I was willfully awkward. It was rather pathetic.

Now no-one would ever pick me up out of a line up as a “catch.” Even of the same sex. My wife debates this, but this is 2016. In 1992 it was, as the Brits say, quite the other thing. I was geek chic before that term was ever coined, and it ain’t no boast, either. Just wasn’t appreciated, like all geeks feel. This is relevant to my tale, by the way. Stay with me. Later we’ll have s’mores.

I had gained the rep of being a wierdo, even beyond your run-of-the-mill geek standards. I had amassed a music collection that rivaled my bando buddies, despite almost all of it hovered in the skies circa any time before 1992. My knowledge of Nintendo arcana rivaled the best Tokyo herself could reveal, skies wide open (record time with Zelda 2!). Long story short: I was interesting—at least in my mind—which invited zero interest to the women folk. But it did make for a ride on the rep-go-round.

That rep kept females at bay. Or rather, the other way round. Start to believe your own press and after a while you internalize it, for good or bad. It wafts off of you, like malign deodorant. In simpler terms I’m talking about being self-conscious, and boy was I around this girl. Nervous and awkward, and she knew it. Even thought she was quiet, she made her expressions known to me with nary a word.

She thought me weird, and she was right.

All the while stumbling and bumbling through freshman year between academics and salivating over this cutie-pie, band was the axis upon which the world spun. Friends were more like family. A band was more like a cult, minus the cool kicks and the even Kooler-Aid. In addition to performing at football games and on stage we occasionally had opportunities to perform off campus. Field trips. Playing at special events like parades and/or competitions. In other words, the band loaded up on a bus or plane and off well all went to points afar, instrument cases in hand looking for truth and fun.

One such place was the Azalea Festival in Norfolk, Virginia. It was the first big deal competition I’d ever been in; parade, multiple concerts, the whole wad. And I though, “Big deal. Let’s get the f*ck out of Dodge for a weekend and leave those pesky parents behind. That and I wanna abuse room service.” And so we did (not the room service part unfortunately). Let me tell you a high school marching band on a trip is just inviting mischief and mayhem. Music too, once in a while. I even recall catching a revival of the play Driving Miss Daisy as a course of some dinner theatre (really. Much better than the movie, despite the absence of Morgan Freeman who simply cannot be absent from anything these days). And all the while during our hyperactive, hormone-addled, youth-in-revolt, adolescent caravan I had this hang-up. What? Teenage! Road trip! No parents! What the hell kind of hang-up did you possibly think you deserved to have?

Continuous close proximity of the girl you were pining for. Again, see a pattern?

Forgetting the musical aspects of the trip, there was some promise of leisure. After the days’ fanfare, us freaks and geeks had a treat in store. A moonlight cruise on the Chesapeake! For real. The boat was more like a tug, but it was damned cool to ride a pleasure cruise catered for just us bandos. There was ample room to tear about the decks, taking in the scenery. Little alcoves here and there for the more well-adjusted kids to check out a different kind of scenery. A juice bar (it had to do) and the promise of a dance on the Lido deck for all the boys and girls.

Gulp.

My crush on Andrea was an open secret to my friends; they were always on me to ask her out. That and labeling me a puss for not trying. Who was I to argue? Here on the boat was an ideal seating for me to get my head out of my heart out of my ass and muster up enough fortitude to ask her for a dance. Hell, we all were cut off from the mainland. No escape. Either/or.

I spent my time between singing a capella tunes with my fellow sax mates over the starboard railing (our renditions of the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann” and the Marcels’ “Blue Moon” were pretty good. Get Arista on the phone) and me standing alone, sentinel-like on the far side of a crop of deck chairs staring at the coastline. There I was like a Simon & Garfunkel lyric. Might as well have had a neon sign on my back exclaiming “virgin.” Or “Rush fan.” One and the same for a high schooler really.

It all came to a head. My buddies prodding me. Andrea’s best friend prodding her. And the dread of it all the deejay decided to spin a “slow song.” Climax’s “Masterpiece.” Like I said, funny what sticks.

After much deliberation, making it all a much more dramatic affair than it all was (beyond typical teenage angst) my brother-in-arms Craig wrenched me from my blockade and virtually shoved me in Andrea’s way. Her friend and her were laughing at nothing and Andrea turned around to face me. My heart was in my throat, and as you could’ve probably guessed by after reading all these verbose posts, I blurted out the first thing that smacked me upside the head.

“May I have this dance?” I think I might have bowed also, just to make it extra cheezy.

Andrea smiled and laughed. She then uttered the only word I ever heard her speak to me.

“Sure.”

She took my hand and we did that silly sway that most teens do at a dance. Andrea held my back. I held hers. Gradually getting a firmer grip. She responded in kind. It was nice, and also a relief. Almost two years of pent up chemical churning finally yielded some fruit. My anxiety waned. She actually put her head on my chest as we swayed. I noticed the smell of her hair, how much shorter she was than I, the harbor lights and barely that treacly Climax song mumbling in the background. All fell right with the world, at last.

Until my body betrayed me, and not by my shoddy non-dance moves either.

There is this phenomenon in the average human male genitalia comically referred to as “morning wood.” For some inexplicable reason, men often awake with terrific boners. Doesn’t matter if they came to (so to speak) during an erotic dream or not, their c*cks are up before they are and ready for action. Some might argue that it has to do with an urgent need to pee. Sometimes that’s true. Sometimes that’s not. In any event, when the d*ck wants action, their ain’t no relaxin’. That other head sometimes has a mind of its own. As Andrea soon found out in a very awkward way. Awkward has been the watchword of this whole intro, by the way.

It’s understood that when a man is attracted to a woman, business is open down there. It takes certain circumstances, however, when that arousal may be put to practical use. Face it, fellas: just because the lights are low doesn’t mean you’re rearing to go (I’ll stop that now). A simple dance—no matter how vital—doesn’t usually arouse a guy into a salute. Especially a very sweaty, anxious guy reluctant to have said dance.

Now I have since been told by post-high school girlfriends and my wife also that I possess certain…advantages. At 16, fumbling around females I did not know this. But barring any “evening wood,” Andrea discovered this, and not with any flattering respect, let alone acknowledgment. She didn’t talk much, remember?

The was a bulge in my trousers. The sway grew ever awkward. She pulled away slightly. I looked over her shoulder and saw Andrea’s girlfriend looking amused and delighted, unaware of my issue. I gave her a crooked smile. Andrea said nothing, more so than usual. I could only guess what was happening, but it wasn’t good. It was like Rush’s Caress Of Steel not good.

The song ended. We parted. Somehow we found our way down to the stern to gaze at the harbor lights some more. I was embarrassed. She was mortified. We couldn’t say anything. What was there to say?

Blissfully without us having to comment on our shuffling, Andrea’s friend dragged her away. Doubtless to do the usual “Well…?” routine. I’d like to hope so. Then again, some 20-plus years on, it’s probably self-delusion. Most likely. Perhaps.

I guess the only coda to these tales of misbegotten—perhaps misguided is a better word—amour would be twofold. One, Andrea never went with me again, despite the open secret I carried a torch all the way till graduation. I also feel it fit to say that in reflection of my dancing…thing, she was a late bloomer and with such spoils fell the loser. Another dorkier bando sax man took her to prom. She found him easier to talk to.

Two, an inarguable fact about middle/high school crushes: they are unattainable. They almost always fail, let alone approach actualization. It’s usually all jitters and wet, dripping paws and imaginations running riot. Crushes never amount to anything remotely approaching the possibility of a steady relationship. Like digging a hole in the sand it’s always doomed to collapse. Even though later I scored a somewhat decent girlfriend (in band of course), I still held a torch for Andrea. Later when that chick spurned me and I later discovered my future wife (in choir this time), still had that crush.

What’s up with that? What’s the deal with holding on tightly to an idea of a girl/guy when all other logic screams at you and hits you over the head with cold, hard reality? Why don’t we pay attention? Why do we submit to a fantasy, if not a fallacy? Crushes are a no-win game.

Seems the only time they work out is in the movies…


Ah, high school Commencement Day. Four years in the making for the senior class at Buffalo Glenn to finally take flight and enter the dreaded real world. And it’s up to valedictorian Denis Cooverman (Rust) to deliver the pre-flight instructions.

Days before his vaunted assignment, Denis’ best bud Rich (Carpenter) gets it into Denis’ head to go out with a bang. Make a statement. You wanna live a life in the shadows of greatness, or become great on your own terms? The anxious valedictorian weighs his options, steadies his nerves and writes a killer send-off. None of which come easy, but the show must go on.

And so it does, as Denis both eloquently lambasts the snooty, bullying, effete and general poseurs out there in the graduating class as well as purge a few things of note that’s been plaguing him. Like never getting the chance to tell head cheerleader Beth Cooper (Panettiere) that he loves her. Until now.

Well, things didn’t go off exactly as planned. Denis successfully alienated half the graduating class. The other half just thinks him a weirdo. Looks like Jack’s advice blew up in Denis’ face, however it did have one positive result: it got Beth’s attention. Embarrassed, suspicious and hit-in-the-face-with-a-cream-pie attention, but a window opened nonetheless.

The rightfully nervous Denis takes the plunge and invites Beth and her friends to his graduation party that evening. It’s a hell bound snowball kind of move, but what the heck? High school’s over and after his botched speech, what’s he got to lose? It’s your standard “what else could go wrong?” scenario. Denis still has his mental fingers crossed.

Much to his surprise, delight and dread, Beth and her buddies Cammy (London) and Treece (Storm) crash by for food and spirits. Mostly spirits. Denis and Rich are beside themselves. What on Earth did Denis tell Beth to convince her to come by?

“I love you,” seems too simple, because there ain’t nothin’ simple about love…


Like all my rambling above said, love—or at least lust or infatuation—isn’t simple. Cut and dried. Smooth as silk. Metaphor as simile. It’s what’s almost every blues song is about. It’s what’s almost every sonnet is about. And, more often than not, it’s what’s almost every high school/teen comedy is about (y’know save Dazed And Confused and those Divergent movies). It’s a popular well to dip from this reservoir of teenage passion and horniness. Some hack called Shakespeare took a stab at it (so to speak) with this pastiche called Romeo And Juliet about a billion years ago. Heard it got good reviews.

What I’m saying is that the old teen sex comedy rom-com is an old idea, almost to the point of being hackneyed and downright outmoded. How many times can you tell a tale of adolescent romance where awkward meets gorgeous and eventual sparks fly? A f*cking lot if you’d ask Hollywood. Don’t forget movies are meant to make money first and entertain second (sometimes third. Sometimes never). And it’s a good thing the target audience for such crushy movies have short attention spans, underdeveloped senses of restraint and responsibility and were heavily into Justin Beiber only a scant five years ago.

In other words, the teen sex comedy is disposable. Not like a trashy T Rex album disposable—fun and forget it—but disposable meaning a fast track to some quick cash cuz this flick’ll fall off the radar as soon as Monkingjay, pt 2 hits Netflix. Set it and forget it. Next!

*out comes another Twilight installment, and we don’t care the books are long since over*

Now there have been exceptions to this rule. There always are. They may be no different in story, but it’s the difference that makes it. Prime examples of teen sex comedies that have either bucked the trend of the sweaty, groping, mooning-over formula or have set a standard are Sixteen Candles, …Say Anything, Superbad, The To-Do List, The Sure Thing and American Pie. These get let off the hook because of clever scripts with twists on old tropes, good acting with relatable characters, just the right amount of pathos, satisfying resolutions and are f*cking funny as hell. They set a gold standard, by which all other teen sex comedies are gauged.

I Love You, Beth Cooper did not follow this kind of standard. It didn’t follow any standard (except maybe it’s own). But it as sure as hell followed my Standard, so let’s take time to see why. Roll out your towels and lay down. Graham crackers and warm apple juice awaits.

It’s safe to remind you that Cooper‘s story is as old as the limestone holding Giza in place. There is absolutely nothing new here. No fresh ground to tread. It’s kinda inevitable with teen rom-coms at this point. It is what it is and you shrug, toss back popcorn and go, “Whatever.” The good films of this ilk (like the ones mentioned above) turn expectations on their ear, or at least deliver the classic goods in an earnest way. Cooper is just a big winking joke, trying very hard to be both irreverent and traditional in equal portions. Methinks Columbus tried too hard.

Don’t get me wrong. Chris Columbus is a highly capable, very dependable camera jockey. All those Harry Potter movies count for something, and he did direct the highest grossing comedy film ever (Home Alone for the culturally retarded). Safe to say the man knows what he’s doing. Didn’t show here.  Cooper is one big Columbus piss-take, like he was riffing on the vibe of his debut Adventures In Babysitting. He ended up coming up trumps here with a lot of cheekiness and attempts at being edgy/goofy. In simpler terms, the movie got old fast in defiance of teen rom-coms gimmicks that worked.

Let’s bust out the scalpel, nurse. I feel it proper that Cooper was lifted from Larry Doyle’s novel of the same name. Now we all know from fourth grade that Judy Blume’s book read a lot different…period. What you read and “see” never stacks up against what you’ve read and saw. This tenet attached to the guy who directed the entire f*cking Harry Potter franchise!

Now I never read the Doyle book; from the rant, I set both middle and high school to bed a long while ago (um, save the scarring I babbled on about above for weeks. Moving on). My best guess as to why Columbus screwed the pooch was that the guy was just messing around. Mirthful yeoman’s work, just to have some fun. Columbus already made his mark. Why try harder outside Hogwart’s?

Cuz here was a missed opportunity to add the man’s CV. Like I said, never read the book, but I’m willing to wager a few tickets at Chuck E Cheese’s that Doyle’s work was a tad more off the hook than Columbus’ relatively straightforward, stereotypical take. I make this claim based on the madcap and silly play of the film. It had an SNL feel to it—at first. Surprisingly credit Doyle for the screenplay,  but some writers should stick to books, especially their own. His film version is awash in forced irreverence and much winking, like this is going to be parody of the weaker entires into the teen sex comedy legacy. That it does, but it’s tough to tell if it was meant to be against the grain. We get a lot of snappy lines and sight gags, but they all fall flat. We get lots of nerd pop culture, but a single ep of The Big Bang Theory would suffice and be far more efficient. We’re taken on a roller coaster ride between Denis’ and Beth’s budding (but also shallow) relationship and its impediments: psycho, jealous boyfriend, stereotypical weird sisters the twin Laurens unsure what to make of this Denis thing (and Rich thing even more so), Denis’ dad with his instructions of amour. None of it sticks. Like Stein said, “there’s no there, there.” The bulk of Cooper is reveling in played-out tropes masquerading as “hip.” The bite was chewed off within the first fifteen minutes (to be fair, the valedictorian speech montage was pretty funny). Shame on Columbus, and by extension Doyle. Both should’ve known better to treat an old warhorse like this (especially since this was Doyle‘s warhorse. Who’s go the glue?). As a final nail, the folks at Rotten Tomatoes gave Cooper a, well, rotten review claiming the thing glamorized drinking and driving. Sh*t, even I have my limits.

Long story longer, Cooper tries too hard. Lacks spark. You really can’t substitute ludicrous with hip, not if you don’t care. This movie was lazy and interchangeable with any other “geek makes good with the girl” story. What few flashes of genius bubbled up were quickly dashed by Columbus’s muse demanding him to make a Looney Tunes short inspired by a mid-80s shojo fanzine. The absence of spark made Cooper for one goddam uneven ride.

You can walk into a theatre expecting what you expect with a teen sex comedy (eg: “Whatever”) as the acid test. Face it again, we all know what can of bees we’re opening when we stream certain John Hughes’ films and his disciples. We’re hoping for a cool spin, involving be it misadventures with beer bongs, how to get the car out of the pool Sunday morning an hour before church, f*cking pastry and/or the dork who knows tae kwon do having to take out those virgin raccoons before they steal away his erstwhile sweetie’s vag and—and her beer bong—and defuse the heavy water fusion bomb before his final, essential SAT spin around the world to ensure entry into the planet’s premier dental school/massage parlor. I’d check out a teen flick like that, even against my saner judgment. You are welcome for that Jungian imagery, BTW.

One final thing. In recent installments I mentioned getting away from dissecting the acting in a film. At least tearing apart cadavers. We understand that Cooper is stereotypical when it come to teenaged rom-com, but then so are all of such films. There was one thing seriously lacking here, though. Admittedly, neither of our leads, Rust and Pan…Pam…Hayden were likable. Denis is the consummate dork, to be sure, but he is neither convincing nor enjoyable as the leading man/cipher for all lovelorn losers out there. Our Bath fares no better. She’s just some inhibited hot chick with deeper issues than the entire NatGeo back catalogue. Yes, we’ve seen this before, but there should be chemistry and a modicum of charisma to get us investing in the probable snogging down the line. We should root for out heroes, not hit fast forward (I did a few times. So sue me).

Like Paul Dooley said in Sixteen Candles, “That’s why they call them crushes. If they were easy, they’d call ’em something else.” Not much about Cooper was easy to take. The flick went from promising to boring to stupid…well, pretty easy. Easier I guess than my war stories. Maybe easier than yours. In the endgame, we all got hung up on someone in our teenaged past and longed for the opportunity to f*cking do something about it. Be it hide in your locker or show up with a strategic bouquet in hand dappled with gift cards for Red Robin. Whatever works, or might’ve worked.

Fear not and grind your teeth simultaneously, that forgotten someone is out there waiting for that all-encompassing tower of onion rings. Just be sure to sleep well before that date with nostalgia and try to avoid cruise ships. And this movie.

Now who wants some dinner theatre?

*beer can*


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Relent it. Shocking disappointment. You’d think a guy who knew his way around comedies would direct something—y’know—amusing regarding the old geek-makes-girl story. Man took a nap instead. Let’s whip out the wet towel on his lazy ass.


Stray Observations…

  • For the record, Rust does not look even remotely teenaged. I’ve got bars of soap younger than him.
  • “I’ve loved you from behind…” Best line in the movie, bar none.
  • It gives me a little hope that the Millenials can appreciate Alice Cooper, if only here. By the way, my mom—who’s approaching 70—once said “School’s Out” is a classic. Go, mom.
  • “I apologize on behalf of all boys.”
  • The whole Rich being gay deal was never convincing, even during the cheerleading scene.
  • “We’re gonna need more waffles.”
  • I must admit I did love all the geekish movie references courtesy of Rich. Does that mean I’m gay? Better to blame the blog and my wife.
  • “I’d do two seconds.”
  • Jack Carpenter, the poor man’s late-adolescent Jimmy Fallon.
  • “Nobody wears shoes anymore.”

Next Installment…

Eat Pray Love lather rinse repeat.


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