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I Love You, Beth Cooper

It's the most horrible-wonderful day of Denis Cooverman's young life.

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During his high school valedictorian speech, he impulsively blurts out, "I love you, Beth Cooper." Pretty, popular Beth (Hayden Panettiere) has likely never even noticed gangly nerd-boy Denis (Paul Rust) before, but for a lark, she and two pals turn up at his lame-o party later that night. (Denis' only guest: his "not-gay," drama-happy friend Rich.) But Beth's rageaholic boyfriend also shows up -- and the nutty night full of longing, learning and laughs begins.

Chris Columbus directs this adaptation of Larry Doyle's comic novel, and his take is more movie-house fantasia than insightful coming-of-age tale. It may seem counter-intuitive, but often madcap events fare better on the written page than fleshed out in a film. Doyle's novel benefited from the singularity of Denis' voice, with its self-deprecating asides and trenchant observations. While Rust does fine as Denis, watching the nerd stumble around in embarrassment is the stuff of a thousand previous teen comedies. And the truly keee-razy stuff (like cars driving through parties) on the big screen looks like lazy yuks.

Doyle's novel was relatively wise about how quickly Huge Important Things in high school -- including crushes and clung-to identities -- dry up as quickly as the ink on the just-issued diploma. But Columbus -- and now, Doyle, who wrote the screenplay -- has a test market to please. So, the last reel is larded up with energy-draining sentiment and a romantic cop-out, rendering Doyle's laugh-out-loud novel just another teen movie. Starts Fri., July 10.

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