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High School Graduation Leads to Comic Escapade in 'I Love You, Beth Cooper'

In the new movie by director Chris Columbus, high school graduation, a rite of passage for American teens, leads to a comic escapade pairing the cheerleader-prom queen with the homely, nerdy guy who never gets a date …and the experience makes each of them a better person. Hayden Panettiere of the TV series Heroes stars as the title character. Here's a look at I Love You Beth Cooper.

That's not the kind of thing usually included in a valedictory speech, but Dennis Cooverman - played by newcomer Paul Rust - is not the usual valedictorian. Sure, his grades are terrific and he's going on to a prestigious university; but shy Dennis realizes he has missed out on the fun of the high school years, so he confesses his secret passion for Beth Cooper, the prettiest girl on campus, with whom he has never spoken. In fact, their first conversation comes right after the graduation ceremony …and it is not what he had imagined.

Dazed that she has actually spoken to him, Dennis thinks his dreams are finally coming true; but, as they often do in the movies, those dreams can turn into nightmares …especially with a reckless driver like Beth behind the wheel.

As the night progresses, so does a friendship; he discovers she is not the ideal he had imagined - but that's okay - and she recognizes there is more to life than high school popularity.

Hayden Panettiere says encounters with fans of the TV series Heroes helped her identify with Beth, who, like her TV character, is type-cast as a cheerleader.

"I think 'cheerleader' is used a lot as a symbol of high school: cheerleader, quarterback, you know," Panettiere says. "I think that is why it was used in 'Heroes.' The popular girl is supposed to be the head cheerleader, right?

"I don't know how you think you know somebody if you've never even had a conversation with them," she adds. "It's a very odd concept, but she is this image of a popular, perfect, head cheerleader kind of girl; yet when he gets to know her he realizes that is not her at all. She's this very spunky very full of life girl."

"She goes from being this picture of perfection and this idea of perfection and he realizes that this girl who is everything he might have wanted to be in high school - meaning popular and had fun and reckless and got to have that high school experience - is anything but perfect," Panettiere says. "She doubts herself and is full of insecurities and he has the upper hand [because of] who he is in life."

Director Chris Columbus says Panettiere's Beth and Paul Rust's Dennis realize in the course of their graduation night adventure that their futures will be very different from high school.

"The character of Beth Cooper had probably the four most wonderful years of her life and then on graduation day it sort of all fizzles and she is going to descend into an ordinary life," Columbus says. "She talks about that in the movie. Paul's character, Dennis Cooverman, has had four of the most horrible years you can possibly imagine and, after all the smoke clears on graduation night, he's going to have a pretty great life. I was fascinated by these two people who were polar opposites …that's why I cast Paul, someone who is such a polar opposite of Hayden …and it was a directorial challenge to make them connect emotionally so the audience would accept that."

Columbus, whose films include comedy hits like Home Alone and Mrs Doubtfire as well as the first two Harry Potter features, says …Beth Cooper is a welcome return to his directing roots.

"After doing films like Harry Potter, particularly when you have as much money as you can possibly imagine at your fingertips to make whatever sort of movie you want," Columbus says, "I felt I was getting a little soft and, to be honest with you, spoiled. I wanted to go back to, not a bare-bones approach to filmmaking, but the way I felt back in the 1980's when I was first starting out as a writer on movies like Gremlins and The Goonies and my first movie [as director] Adventures in Babysitting. I thought this could be a companion piece to that and if I strip away the budget and we do it with a relatively unknown cast, with the exception of Hayden, it was an opportunity to put myself back into that situation and, in a sense, reignite my passion for making not only those kind of movies, but bigger movies as well. I just wanted to go back there and see what would happen."

I Love You Beth Cooper is written by Larry Doyle, adapted from his 2007 novel of the same name, which won the Thurber Prize for American humor.