i_love_you_beth_cooper01There’s no shortage of teen coming of age stories based on nerdy guys head-over-heels with the hottest girl in school; think American Pie, The Girl Next Door, Fanboys along with dozens of others. There’s even a reality show called Beauty and the Geek that pairs up models with self-confessed nerds, among them a Rubik’s Cube Record Holder and Karl, who listed his profession as Dungeon Master. A new film, I Love You Beth Cooper, based on a novel by author / screenwriter Larry Doyle, mines this territory pairing up a high school valedictorian with the most popular and wildest, girl in school.

Nerdy Buffalo Grove High School valedictorian Denis Cooverman (Paul Rust) chose an unusual moment to declare his love for Beth Cooper (Hayden Panettiere). “The one thing I will regret if I never say it is I love you Beth Cooper,” he announces on-stage during his high school graduation, “I never told you because we never spoke.” Beth is one third of “the trinity,” the three hottest girls in school; a cheerleader who never gave Denis a second look. Never gave him a second look, that is, until after he publicly declared his love for her. That night, after the fateful graduation speech, when Denis, Beth and their friends hit the town it becomes the best night of his life despite Beth’s psycho chiseled-jawed ex-boyfriend. “All my memories from high school are from tonight,” he says.

I Love You Beth Cooper starts off promisingly. The first five minutes is funny, touching and sets up what could have been a good coming-of-age movie. Unfortunately the remaining hour and forty minutes is flat, flat, flat.

Director Christopher Columbus is no stranger to comedy, having helmed the Home Alone movies; no stranger to romance, as he proved with Only the Lonely and no stranger to teen fare, having made the first two Harry Potter movies, but here his usual deft touch is too heavy handed. Call it You Bore Me Beth Cooper. The bones of the movie are quite good; it’s well cast (with one glaring exception), the idea is cute, but any movie that relies on flashbacks that simply don’t work, the old champagne cork to the face gag, a lame soundtrack and lessons like “you’re not alive unless you’re living,” is bound for failure.

When the movie sticks to the sweet mushy stuff, exploring teen loneliness and love, it works reasonably well. When it swerves into its more slapsticky moments it becomes run-of the-mill. Played too broadly to be poignant it loses the touching x-factor that made it promising in its opening minutes.

Add to that a badly cast Hayden Panettiere in the titular role and I Love You Beth Cooper becomes a miss from a usually reliable filmmaker.