Living

The cheerleader, the nerd, blah blah blah

If movies reflect anything perfectly, it is that high school is rough. It's a virtual jungle where the popular kids rule like lions while the nerds hide in the shadows waiting to be devoured.

Hollywood has had a love affair with depicting high school since the 1980s when John Hughes proved you could make a whole movie about kids in detention. Somewhere in Los Angeles right now, writers are trying to figure out a new way for the class geek to get the head cheerleader.

"I Love You, Beth Cooper" follows the old formula to a tee. The school nerd, Denis Cooverman (Paul Rust), uses his valedictory speech to proclaim his love for head cheerleader Beth Cooper (Hayden Panettiere). Like in an awkward therapy session, Denis also spells out what is wrong with everyone else in his high school class.

After the speech, Denis becomes like Perez Hilton at a celebrity party, constantly dodging people in an effort not to get beaten up. Unfortunately, he cannot escape Beth's boyfriend, Kevin (Shawn Roberts), and his coked-up military mafia. For some odd reason, this leads Beth to take pity on Denis, who then becomes her graduation night companion.

"Beth Cooper" feels like an odd sequel to 1998's "Can't Hardly Wait," the one in which Jennifer Love Hewitt was the hot chick, but this time the nerd actually gets to hang out with the popular girl.

Unlike most teen comedies that glamorize the popular girl, Beth is shown for what she really is -- a self-centered drama queen who uses her looks and body to get what she wants. After playing a cheerleader on "Heroes" and in "Bring It On: All or Nothing," Hayden Panettiere has mastered the not-so-challenging role. Although he is no John Hughes, "Harry Potter" veteran Chris Columbus does a good job handling the young cast.

Rust's Denis is so self-conscious and overly educated it is impossible to believe that shallow Beth would even look at him, let alone fall for him. That is until we discover -- surprise -- that Beth is not just a pretty face but a troubled teen with a deep soul. Doing most of the comedy heavy work is Denis' best friend, Rich (Jack Carpenter). He keeps things from getting too boring by re-enacting other better movies. Larry Doyle's script, adapted from his book, feels dead at points. At times, they appear just to be waiting for Beth's evil boyfriend to attack again for lack of anything better to do.

If "Beth Cooper" does anything, it affirms what we already believe we need to do: Study hard so we can do something with our lives. If not, we are doomed to lives of mediocrity. For those of us who didn't master our SATs and weren't popular, either, there is just no hope of moving forward. We are doomed to be average forever. But I bet we could come up with a better idea for a movie.

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