[rating: 3/4]

I went to see “I Love You, Beth Cooper” reluctantly. The ouerve of teen sex comedies where young nerdy boys go on wild adventures in the hopes of getting laid has been pretty much exhausted since the late 90s. And, judging from the trailers only, that’s what this film looked like: two recent high school graduates spend one night trying to lose their virginity (one of whom is in love with the most popular girl in school, natch). Been there, done that, got the T-shirt, pawned the DVD a while ago.

But what a pleasant surprise to see what “I Love You Beth Cooper” really is: a delightful, sweet, and relatively gentle comedy. It’s not a masterpiece, but it does have a sense of joy and whimsy that’s frankly astonishing at some points.

The beginning is pretty typical: Dennis (Paul Rust) is the valedictorian of his high school class and a regulation nerd. After confessing his love for the mythical popular girl, Beth Cooper (Hayden Panettiere), he and his best dork bud Rich (Jack Carpenter) get taken away by her and her friends for one night to get the true high school experience. There is the usual roster of boner jokes, slapstick fighting, sexual innuendo, and slow-motion shots of Panettiere in a low-cut dress. The first half hour is an awkward, stilted affair; a half-baked reincarnation of every teen sex comedy since Jason Biggs first molested a pie.

Directed by: Chris Columbus
Written by: Larry Doyle
Starring: Hayden Panettiere, Paul Rust, Jack Carpenter, Lauren Storm
Rating: PG-13

But the moment Dennis and Rich enter Beth’s adorable car (which she drives like a bat out of hell) something very different comes to the fore. Dennis realizes that the Beth Cooper of his dreams may not exist; the real Beth Cooper is a real flesh-and-blood girl with flaws and a past. The rest of the movie may be slightly absurd in parts. It may hold to clichƒ© and the dialogue may be a little simple. But there’s an essential truth there about the nature of our teenage dreams, which may or may not have been deflated in the face of cold hard fact.

Panettiere is unlike any other female comedic lead I’ve seen in a long time. Instead of a simpering virgin, slut, bitch, or airhead, we get a whirlwind; a reckless, magnificent goddess of destruction. Beth Cooper’s a little lost and flailing in her suddenly dropping off the cliff of graduation; astonishingly self-aware, she knows full well this is her last night to be the coolest girl in school. Panettiere has pretty decent comedic timing, but in the more dramatic moments she’s wonderful to watch as she oscillates between vulnerability and steely will. Even the two girls who work as her entourage are terrific, especially Lauren Storm, who gets probably the best comedic lines in the film. (Upon hearing that the boys have wine, she rebuffs them, saying, “Oh no, wine reminds me of Jesus.”)

The film will probably fall to the wayside in the wake of the press tsunami that is “Bruno,” and that’s quite a shame. It’s so rare to see a real surprise come out of the major film industry anymore; it’s well worth the $10 to go see one.

About The Author

Emma Johnson is a Blast Magazine critic whose work has appeared in The Boston Globe

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