High School Unconfidential

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I Love You, Beth Cooper

by Larry Doyle (Ecco)

The big question any writer attempting a tome on secondary school must face: is high school more pathetic or more hilarious? The fact is, it is pathetic when you're going through it -- a hormonally exploding biology experiment in an all-expense-paid cage. But afterward, when as an adult humor writer you tackle it, is it funny?Cameron Crowe avoided the grown-up trap very nicely with Fast Times at Ridgemont High, when he became a stealth student and just recounted what he heard from the kids. Laughter through tears. Larry Doyle, a Simpsons scribe, has taken his shot at the Grade 9 through 12 saga in I Love You, Beth Cooper. He does good. Very nicely in fact.

It doesn't hurt that he starts with a crackerjack opening gambit -- huge geek dweeb valedictorian usurps his graduation speech by confessing love to head cheerleader, hilarious hijinks ensue. It is the play-by-play where the tale slogs down. And part of it is the casting. There's the ersatz Pretty in Pink kid of ambivalent sexuality, there's the cloying parents, there's a couple of whacko ex-jocks, and there are more musical name checks than you can shake a Radar magazine at. It's one night in the life, a good ploy -- hey, it served Shakespeare didn't it? And there is a touch of laughter amidst the tears, or tears amidst the laughter. It hooks you, it pulls you along, almost despite yourself.

But something about the way it's written, you almost expect commercial breaks -- it's got that kind of momentum. Which might be another way of saying that, as a real, fresh take on what it is to be a teen, even in a made-up literary kind of way, it was missing the kind of fictional magic that made me believe. It seemed to be all on one volume -- loud. Even on the last night of high school, life isn't like that. Unless it's remembered from afar. I remember on the night, for me at least, like everything else about high school, it was pretty damn crummy. - Ken Krimstein

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Mr. Krimstein is a writer, cartoonist, father, and grump who lives in New York City. So there.

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