I Love You, Beth Cooper by Larry Doyle / Dustin Rowles
Book Reviews | August 2, 2007 | Comments ()
You could never reasonably argue that John Hughes’ oeuvre warranted either guilty pleasure or secret shame status. It is the gold standard of throwaway cinema; 90-minute nuggets of high-school life — angst broken down into easily relatable characters, brilliant one-liners, and perfect endings wrapped around canonical pop music. A product of early ‘90’s high school, it never occurred to me until recently that, perhaps, high-school stratification was the chicken hatched by Hughes’ egg. Nerds, jocks, dweebs, stoners, and cheerleaders were always there, of course, but was it Hughes who really set the classification into place? Was John Hughes high school’s Dewey Decimal? Probably not, because no writer feels quite as derivative as Hughes, but I can’t — off the top of my head — pinpoint a movie pre-1985 that dissected the high-school ecosystem as easily and efficiently as did Sixteen Candles or The Breakfast Club, when dweebs supplanted greasers as the fourth category of student. I’m nevertheless guessing that Hughes was more like the Elvis Presley of Rock n’ Roll — he didn’t invent it, but he sure as hell popularized the teen comedy in its current form.
Anyway, I’m rambling and not really getting to any sort of point except to say that Larry Doyle’s I Love You, Beth Cooper owes everything to Hughes, and unapologetically so. In fact, he begins each chapter of his book with a quote from one of the many spokespeople from Hughes’ teen comedies and those that came after: Gary Wallace, Enid Coleslaw, Ronald Faye (Saved!), Heather Chandler (“Fuck Me Gently with a Chainsaw”), Max Fischer, et. al., and I found myself gleefully racing through chapters just to see who Doyle would quote from next (and you better believe Lloyd Dobler made the cut).
The plot of I Love You, Beth Cooper is no more than an outlandish, souped-up version Can’t Hardly Wait (secret shame? Pshaw! Awesome is more like it.) It concerns Denis Cooverman, the awkward Wyatt Donnellian debate-team captain of his school who uses his valedictorian speech as an opportunity to profess his love for Beth Cooper, the book’s Amanda Beckett (“oh Mandy well you kissed me and stopped me from shaking”). Beth Cooper, who seems to have a keen self-awareness of her popularity’s expiration date (not unlike Jerry O’Connell’s drunken Trip McNeely in Wait) surprises Denis after graduation and shows a flicker of interest, at least enough for Denis to steal a contrivance from every sitcom ever made and throw a last-minute graduation party together to entice Beth to come over and partake of the one bottle of champagne his father gave him as a graduation gift. Expectedly, the only other person at the party is Denis’ lispy best friend, a closet homosexual/drama queen who has apparently memorized IMDB, by the name of Rich Munsch (one of my favorite sophomoric names, after Richard Chew, the editor of Star Wars and countless other films which allow his name to appear on movie posters and elicit the snorted laughter of every 15-year-old boy alive).
On a whim, however, Beth and her two batshit idiotic cheerleading ho-friends show up and things sort of go downhill for Denis from there in traditional teen comedy fashion: Beth’s older Army boyfriend chases him around town like a bulked-up, homicidal newspaper delivery boy who needs his two dollars; Rich explores his sexuality in a drunken threesome with the cheer-hos; the book’s able-bodied Martha Dumptruck attacks Denis at another party, where inebriated epiphanies abound; and, of course, Denis attempts to finally lose his virginity, which has been burning a hole in his pocket all his life. And you can bet your ass that a mixed-CD plays central to the plot, and that Kiss’ “Beth” makes an appearance, too. The only thing missing, of course, is a cameo from Kelly LeBrock.
There’s absolutely nothing new in I Love You, Beth Cooper. But, that’s sort of the point. Larry Doyle — a former writer of “The Simpsons” and “Beavis and Butthead” — doesn’t parody teen comedies inasmuch as he pays homage to them while simultaneously capturing a lot of the authentic angstyness of high-school life. It’s got a total Hughesian vibe, though the antics in Beth Cooper are considerably more American Pie. And there are few books that feel as much like a film while reading it — it’s the literary equivalent of a Saturday afternoon TBS flick that you could watch 100 times and never get tired of it, and if it hasn’t been optioned yet, it will be. Unfortunately, I suspect that Hollywood will give it a more genre appropriate ending, which is a shame, because it’s the only place where Doyle subverts the Hughesian formula. And it’s a hilarious success.
For more about the book, check out the pretty brilliant website, replete with a Simple Minds blurb-montage and an excerpt from the novel.