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Review: 'I Love You, Beth Cooper'

Romantic comedy for teens has fresh twist and new acting find Paul Rust.

By Peter RainerFilm critic of The Christian Science Monitor / July 11, 2009

In this film publicity image released by 20th Century Fox, actors from left, Paul Rust, Lauren Storm, Hayden Panettiere, Jack T. Carpenter and Lauren London are shown in a scene from, "I Love You, Beth Cooper."

Joe Lederer/20th Century Fox/AP

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Bitter experience has taught me that any summer romantic comedy aimed at teens already has two strikes against it. If, however, you go into "I Love You, Beth Cooper" with zero expectations, it's not half bad. It's directed by the terminally workmanlike Chris Columbus, but the script by Larry Doyle, based on his novel, has some smart flashes, and a few of the young performers resemble real people and not the usual prefab teen idols.

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The premise is a good one. Instead of spouting the usual boring homilies, geeky high school class valedictorian Denis Cooverman (Paul Rust), urged on by his best friend Rich (Jack T. Carpenter), uses the occasion of his senior graduation address to proclaim his years-long crush on fellow classmate and head cheerleader Beth Cooper (Hayden Panettiere), who of course doesn't know he exists.

Taken aback, but also intrigued by his ardor, Beth slowly warms to him as day passes into night. She is flanked by her two best friends, cheerleaders Cammy (Lauren London) and Treece (Lauren Storm). Together they form a trinity right out of "Mean Girls." Except their meanness burns off rather quickly. You see, this is a movie about locating the inner sweetness in all of us. Sometimes a cheerleader is more than a cheerleader. (Isn't it about time somebody organized an antidefamation league for cheerleaders?)

In case you haven't been paying attention, just about every young adult comedy, no matter how raunchy, comes equipped these days with a handy moral message. From "Knocked Up" through "Adventureland" and beyond, peace, love, and understanding rule the day. Traditionalism is in. Catting around is out. Doing right by your partner is applauded.

In "Beth Cooper," it doesn't take us long to figure out that Beth is more than a bimbo. Or to put it another way, she's a bimbo with heart. She's drawn to Denis because he adores her for who she is rather than (or in addition to) how she looks. This is in contrast to her beefcake boyfriend Kevin (Shawn Roberts), a military wacko who, with his two wacko cohorts, repeatedly hounds Denis in an attempt to humiliate him and get Beth back.

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