How do you transform a very funny book into a dreadfully boring movie? I laughed more from reading the first five pages of Larry Doyle's novel than I did during the entirety of Chris Columbus' film version of I Love You, Beth Cooper, despite the fact that Doyle wrote the screenplay. Much of the dialogue is lifted directly from the book, but when spoken on screen, the lines fall painfully flat. That leaves the attempts at physical humor, which are constant, and will tickle to death only those who love to see pratfalls: "Look, Mommy, man fall down and cry out in agony! Ha, ha!"
Leaving aside the source material and the film's relative faithfulness to it, I Love You, Beth Cooper might have worked as either a joyful, gleefully mischievous, yet ultimately conservative rebel yell (a la Ferris Bueller's Day Off) or as a funny yet thought-provoking tale of teenagers finally growing up (a la Dazed and Confused). Like those two infinitely superior movies, I Love You, Beth Cooper takes place over the course of one eventful day in the life of its teen-aged subjects, but Columbus can't decide whether the movie should be an uncomfortable comedy of embarrassment and humiliation or a sweet, sentimental romance. The tone wavers uncertainly throughout -- often within individual scenes -- and the film's general inertia quickly becomes wearisome.
Hayden Panettiere makes for an unlikely Beth Cooper. She's meant to be a high school dream girl, a fantasy figure concocted by the awkward, hapless Denis Cooverman (Paul Rust) through all the years that he's sat behind her in class and stared at her picture on his bedroom ceiling.