Hire the cheerleader, save the movie.
Hayden Panettiere, best known as the indestructible cheerleader on NBC's "Heroes," may be the best part of "I Love You, Beth Cooper." Opening in theaters today, it's an adaptation of the Larry Doyle novel of the same name about a high school valedictorian who uses his commencement speech to declare his love for Cooper.
She's the popular blond head cheerleader and Denis Cooverman (Paul Rust) is the dorky, brainy captain of the debate team who plans on becoming a doctor. Stuck behind her in alphabetically arranged classrooms, he has silently pined for her for years.
That is, until graduation, when he not only professes his infatuation but sends pointed messages to other students about their bullying, stuck-up behavior or, in the case of his best friend Rich (Jack T. Carpenter), sexual orientation.
2 stars = Mediocre
- Starring: Paul Rust, Hayden Panettiere, Jack T. Carpenter.
- Rating: PG-13 for crude and sexual content, language, some teen drinking and drug references, and brief violence.
- Web site: www.iloveyoubethcoopermovie.com/
Denis triggers a long, life-changing and memorable night as Beth and her best friends (Lauren London and Lauren Storm) show up for his party, as do Beth's hot-tempered boyfriend and his punch-drunk pals. Denis is brilliant but not smart enough to know to call 911 when interlopers trash your house.
Denis and Rich join the girls as they speed around Tacoma, Wash., hitting parties and the occasional parked car, consuming illegally purchased beer and trying to dodge the musclemen who want to punch out Denis' lights.
I've seen enough high school kids flirting, fussing and feuding on one fateful night to last a lifetime, and parents will either be horrified or blase about the splitting of a 12-pack of beer, reckless driving and sexual situations or jokes.
For me, the movie works best when it concentrates on the sweet, quiet moments between Denis and Beth as they talk about their families, future plans and how they see themselves and each other.
Rust turned 28 earlier this year and looks too old to play a high school grad. Even before I read his bio, I thought he delivered his lines like he was doing standup at an Improv club, which is where he was discovered.
Panettiere has this cheerleader routine down pat; she looks like a golden girl but harbors heartbreak and suspects disappointment lies ahead.
The pleasant surprise is Carpenter, a drama graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, whose character is saddled with a never-ending (and oddly anachronistic) supply of movie quotes and an iffy sexual persuasion. Everyone but Rich thinks he's gay, and he brings a playfulness and ambiguity to the role. He learns, as do others, not to make snap judgments about people.
The influence of parents is unmistakable here, although they're either invisible or, in the case of the Coovermans, incredibly cool about Denis and Rich's excellent adventures.
"The Simpsons" writer Doyle turned his book into a screenplay, while Chris Columbus directs. He has a long list of credits for movies aimed at younger audiences, from "Home Alone" and "Mrs. Doubtfire" to the first two "Harry Potter" films but isn't on as firm a footing here.
"I Love You, Beth Cooper" is a bit like Beth Cooper's driving. Fine one minute, sideswiping cars and crashing through walls the next.
Movie editor Barbara Vancheri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1632. First Published July 10, 2009 4:00 AM