A series of box office duds have shown that the popular genre is certainly not infallible.

The State of the Teen Comedy

on July 15, 2009 by Gary Gentile
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Is the teen comedy dead, or is it merely suffering some adolescent angst?

Moviegoers had little love for I Love You, Beth Cooper this past weekend, effectively rendering the movie wizard bait for this weekend’s Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

Beth Cooper is the latest example of a teen comedy that has fallen flat. Despite being directed by Chris Columbus ( Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone ) and starring a scantily-clad Hayden Panettiere, the film debuted in seventh place with a weekend gross of $4.9 million.

And that was on a weekend where the top film, Brüno, underperformed expectations, grossing $30.6 million.

In April, the R-rated coming-of-age film Adventureland similarly met with lackluster box office success. The film grossed $16 million domestically despite its starring Twilight headliner Kristen Stewart and being directed by Greg Mottola, who helmed Superbad.

While that film may be headed for cult status, you’ll have a tough time finding anyone who would say the same for Beth Cooper.

The high-school comedy Fired Up! also flamed out earlier this year, grossing only $17.2 domestically in its short run. And last year’s College failed to make the grade, amassing a gross of $4.7 million.

Is it time to put the teen comedy on life support?

“It depends on the product,” says Harry Medved of Fandango.com. “ Adventureland was a small, independent comedy/drama and people were expecting it to be another Superbad. It was a film with nuances and subtleties.”

Some teen movies have bucked the trend. April saw two big teen hits, 17 Again, starring Zac Efron and Hannah Montana: The Movie, with Miley Cyrus. Last year’s High School Musical 3 was also a big hit.

The appeal of that movie’s star, Vanessa Hudgens, will be tested in August with the release of Bandslam, a battle-of-the-bands flick that also features a cameo from David Bowie.

Star power, as well as genre appeal, will no doubt play a huge role in the success of September’s Jennifer’s Body, the high school horror film from Diablo Cody of Juno fame.

While moviegoers might trend sweet or sour on formulaic teen comedies, fans always love to be scared, especially when the villain is played by Megan Fox.

Beth Cooper may have suffered from a trite plot, but it also was hurt by weak marketing and bad timing, coming up as it did against Brüno.

“It just sort of fascinates me that a movie like I Love You, Beth Cooper goes up against Brüno,” says Ashley Dos Santos, a senior account executive at Crosby~Volmer International Communications. “The only audience they can realistically hope to get is the younger teen group whose parents won’t let them see Brüno.”

Beth Cooper was not treated kindly by reviewers, despite the established track record Columbus boasts.

But teens usually respond more to word of mouth and stealth marketing through social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, experts say.

“Teens don’t pay attention to reviews,” says Jeff Valfer, founder and editor-in-chief of TeenNewsNet.com.

The website for Beth Cooper features a customizable trailer that allows users to send messages to people they may have crushes on. A Twitter application also allows for anonymous confessions for love. And the trailer debuted on Valentine’s Day, emphasizing the romantic elements of the film.

“You would almost think [ Beth Cooper ] would be better opening in September so word of mouth could spread in school and that’s where it would grow,” says Larissa Faw, editor of Youth Markets Alert. “There’s no way to get the word out on this movie when you are overloaded with the Transformers hype and now G.I. Joe. It’s neverending.”

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