July 13th, 2009 by Mike Fulton

iloveyoubethcooper_bigposterI’d call out “spoiler alert” here, but frankly, if you’ve seen this movie’s trailer, you already know the plot. High school valedictorian Denis Cooverman, played by Paul Rust, breaks from the norm in his graduation speech to declare his love for Beth Cooper, played by rising star Hayden Panettiere. She’s the girl he’s sat behind in class after class for four years, and his friend has convinced him that this is his last chance to make any sort of impression on her. And while he doesn’t otherwise name any names, he’s also got words for other classmates as well. After the ceremony ends, he discovers that the object of his affection has a beefy boyfriend who isn’t exactly happy about anything, and especially not happy about the fact that Beth seems to find the whole thing kind of charming. Zany antics ensue.

The movie is directed by Chris Columbus, which is a bit of a surprise since this seems more like the sort of movie that often gets a first-time director, not a successful veteran. It’s basically a small movie that you’d normally see in the spring or fall rather than the first half of the summer. In fact, I have to wonder if maybe screenwriter (and original novel author) Larry Doyle wasn’t in consideration to direct at some early stage, but when they managed to cast Hayden Panettiere as the titular character, the expectations for this movie were raised significantly.

Discounting Hayden Panettiere, the only recognizable stars are Alan Ruck and Cynthia Stevenson as Cooverman’s parents. The casting of the former in particular seemed like a wink and a nudge to the films of the mid to late 80’s like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which co-starred Ruck, and that’s more than fitting since this movie owes more than a little bit to that heritage.

The part of Denis best friend is played by Jack Carpenter and he spends most of the movie either denying the idea raised in Cooverman’s speech that he might be gay, or else cheering on a reluctant Denis to go where the night is taking them. Beth’s entourage slash two best friends, Cammy and Treece, played by Lauren London and Lauren Storm, don’t really have much to do for most of the film except to feed straight lines or provide one-liners in response to the main characters.

The basic premise here is the plot, and the story lies not so much in how the plot develops but rather in how the characters do. There’s plenty of zany comedy action, but this is ultimately a character-driven movie. On the one side you have Denis as the shy and awkward, but not quite lost-cause nerd who spends an evening finding out that this girl he’s put up on a pedestal is in fact altogether different from what he expected.

On the other side, you have Beth, a beautiful young woman who isn’t quite sure what to make of this guy. At first she’s embarrassed, then just a little bit charmed by him. Right at the point where she might have otherwise have said goodbye, she ends up having to essentially rescue him from her cocaine-crazed beefy boyfriend. Beth is more than a little aware of the effect she has on the opposite sex, but like a lot of such young women, hasn’t quite decided what to do about it yet. Sometimes it’s useful, and sometimes it’s just a burden. She’s also painfully aware of the likelihood that her life has already peaked and that the rest of the way will all be downhill.

It’s interesting to note that we don’t really see the same sort of over the top high-school stereotypes here that we might see in other similar movies. For example, in alternate takes on this same idea, Beth Cooper would start out as a total bitch who would be furious about Cooverman’s speech. Her two friends slash henchmen would be cut from the same cloth, and together they’d all be hatching schemes to embarrass and ridicule Cooverman, rather than trying to rescue him Cooverman from her dickwad boyfriend.

Here, we take the more subtle, less-traveled route. Rather than being angry at Cooverman’s speech, Beth is a bit embarrassed and charmed despite herself. Every time you start to think you’ve pegged her, she switches directions. And while it’s not like they have a ton to do, it’s clear early on that Beth’s friends aren’t the usual clones that usually accompany the queen bee in such movies. The girls are not at all alike in personality. In fact, when you get right down to it, Denis Cooverman himself and Beth’s boyfriend Kevin are the biggest stereotypes in the movie.

Nothing here is likely to win any major awards. The acting is OK but not spectacular. In fact, if anything, the acting is a bit better than the script really deserves. It’s surprising for what is essentially a character-driven piece, but I didn’t really feel that the script had a lot of depth for the actors to work with.

Denis Cooverman is supposed to be the one who has the greater voyage of discovery here, but I found Beth Cooper to be the more interesting character. Her go-for-broke wildness is kind of premeditated rather than spontaneous, and behind it there’s a subtle self-awareness and a bit of desperation, like if she doesn’t have as much fun as she possibly can right now, it won’t be long before she’s never going to have the chance again. Maybe this was the script’s one real attempt at depth, but given how shallow the rest of it is, I have to give Hayden Panettiere the credit here for the characterization.

One surprise for me about the script was that while the story generally follows the original book, the ending is greatly simplified in the movie. The book’s ending had quite a bit more going on, and the penultimate scenes seemed exactly like what you’d expect in this sort of story. But the ultimate ending was a bit darker and more cynical, and didn’t really allow for much of a sequel. To be honest, I don’t foresee a sequel happening here, but the movie does leave the possibility open for one. On the other hand, this was probably a fairly cheap movie to make, so even modest success might be enough to spawn a sequel. Stranger things happen in Hollywood daily.

I was once again somewhat disappointed in the quality of the image at the theater. The image lacked crisp sharpness and colors were unsaturated. It just seemed kinda blah. But then again, with the exception of Star Trek on IMAX, I’ve felt that way about nearly every movie I’ve seen in the theatre since I got my current television. I guess the bottom line is that it’s just really really hard for a projected theater image to compare with a good 1080p Hi-Def television these days. As more and more people upgrade their televisions and adopt newer media like Blu-Ray, this is going to be something that the movie studios and theater chains are going to have to address.

Update For DVD/Blu-Ray Release

I just had the chance to check out the new Blu-Ray release of this movie, and prominently featured on the front of the package was a sticker proclaiming an “unreleased alternate ending!”

Since one of my minor annoyances about the movie was the way they’d changed the ending from the book, I anxiously opened the package, put in the disc, and went straight to the Special Features menu to watch the “unreleased alternate ending”. I have to say, I wasn’t really all that surprised to see that it was essentially the original ending from the book, minus the comic-strip “5-years after” epilogue. They must have filmed the original ending, decided they didn’t like it for some reason, and then filmed the one that ended up in the theatrical release.

My original speculation was that the ending was changed in order to shorten the film’s running time a bit, but on film, the original ending is actually not as long as I would have expected, and probably no more than a few minutes longer, so now I’m thinking the issue must have been something else. I’ve no idea what it might be, because I really do the “alternate” ending from the book is a better, less-abrupt ending than what I saw in the theatre. At least now we have the option of seeing it. It’s just a shame that the Blu-Ray doesn’t give you the option to seamlessly jump to the ending of your choice.

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