Back on the late, lamented film site The Dissolve, national treasure Nathan Rabin had an ongoing column called “You Might Also Like”, which used the various internet algorithms that recommend one movie on the basis of another to investigate whether one would, in fact, also like the second movie. I tried this last night: starting with the charming Easy A, an updated riff on both the Mean Girls genre of high school transformation and clique pressures and, on the other hand, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, I ultimately arrived at director Chris Columbus’ 2009 I Love You, Beth Cooper.
Did I also like it? I did not. In fact, the phrase that keeps springing to mind is “steaming pile of hot garbage left on the curb on a summer’s day.” And that’s the most generous one I can muster.
A wildly misconceived effort on basically every level, ILY,BC (as it is referred to by nobody, probably) plays like a laugh-free parody of itself. On high school graduation day, valedictorian Denis Cooverman (the strikingly charmless Paul Rust) seizes the opportunity his speech affords to declare his love for Beth Cooper (the monstrously awful Hayden Panettiere). In fact, he utters the words, “I love you, Beth Cooper” from the dais. (Ripping off MST3K, I shouted, “We have a title!” Still got a laugh.)
The only problem is she has no idea who he is. He’s a big dork, she’s a popular girl, et cetera. Through a series of misadventures that can only be described as “unlikely” – “stupid” is another possible descriptor – the two of them end up running around engaged in wacky hijinks until dawn, along with her vacant friends Cammy and Treece, and his best bud Rich, who the movie never tires of lampooning for his closeted homosexuality (and his repeated meta-references to older films). There’s a joke that never gets old. Denis is put through the increasingly humiliating rites of passage in films such as these, on the assumption that it’s always hilarious when bad things happen to clueless morons.
The conceit that allegedly is supposed to make their interactions amusing is that, while he has idealized her as a paragon of beauty and grace, she’s actually a dangerous lunatic. What’s more, her roided-out boyfriend is now on the hunt for Denis and Rich, and so our heroes scamper through hallways, lose their clothes through tortured plot developments, and generally act like the most cut-rate Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis you’re likely to find on the wacky teen beat. All the while Rust mugs for the camera and waits a beat too long, begging the audience for a laugh we are unlikely to provide. It’s some painful shit.
By the time Columbus – the very definition of milquetoast middlebrow goofballery, responsible most recently for foisting the widely-reviled Adam Sandler project Pixels on an unsuspecting world – gets around to layering on the unearned pathos, ILY,BC has long outstripped any generosity a reasonable person might have been expected to offer it. It’s just awful, a collection of moldy jokes, incoherent characterization, lazy gay mockery, and grim attempts at mining laughs from cartoon violence. It is at pains to demonstrate that its heart is in the right place — you almost expect someone to say, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that!” after yet another “LOL UR GAY” moment — but that’s just more bad faith from a film that’s essentially a dollar sign become sentient.
What does this have to do with the cute, low-stakes Easy A, which now looks to me like a full-on masterpiece for the ages by comparison. Well, there’s a high school. That’s true. And Denis goes from zero to hero, sort of, which is kind of a transformation. We learn there are hidden depths to people and that misunderstandings can multiply, albeit in the dumbest ways it is possible to learn these things.
But the real divergence is between Emma Stone’s charm in Easy A and that film’s interest in the ways teenagers actually communicate and process their world. In other words, Easy A is an honestly comic examination of high school, femininity, the rumor mill, and the screwball implications of rapidly compounding misunderstandings. I Love You, Beth Cooper is a dishonest and off-handedly lazy cash-grab from people who were apparently convinced kids will watch fucking anything.
And then I remember that I just watched it, too. And my girlfriend spent $2.50 on it.
Well played, cash-grabbers. Well played.