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How To Deal (PG-13)
New Line Cinema
Official Site
Director: Clare Kilner
Producers: Erica Huggins, William Teitler
Written by: Sarah Dessen, Neena Beber
Cast: Mandy Moore, Allison Janney, Alexandra Holden, Peter Gallagher, Trent Ford, Dylan Baker, Mackenzie Astin, Mary Catherine Garrison, Nina Foch, Glynnis Johns

Rating: out of 5

How To Deal begins with a divorce and a wedding announcement and continues on to include one major life event after another. Deaths, remarriages, car accidents, pregnancies—the movie is not so much “realistic,” as the publicity tells us, as overdoing what could have been a good thing.

The movie is based on Sarah Dessen’s young adult novels, Someone Like You and That Summer, which I have not read, but which could explain the myriad topics. All in all, this is not your typical bubblegum teen movie.

Halley Martin (Moore) is the teen girl who becomes disillusioned with love after seeing her parents go through a nasty divorce. Her best friend Scarlett’s (Holden) separation from her boyfriend only cements in Halley’s mind that all Love does is hurt people in the end. Then Macon Forrester (Ford), the school troublemaker, begins to show an interest in Halley and they hang out more and more—but only as “just friends.” Halley thinks that with the right labels, no one gets hurt.

The teen romance isn’t the only one getting screen time. Halley’s older sister Ashley (Garrison) is going through the ups and downs of an engagement to Lewis (Astin); dad Len (Gallagher) eloped with a younger woman; and mom Lydia (Janney) is recovering from the divorce. The storylines weave in and out of each other, but are all neatly tied up in the end. It seems especially unnatural here not because teen movies aren’t known for quick fixes at the end, but because the subject matter was especially heavy.

The two best things about How To Deal are 1) Allison Janney and 2) Halley’s clothes. Janney plays Lydia Martin with subtle humor and can quite possibly claim credit for all the humorous scenes. She’s genuine and believable and does a great job with the often-wanting script. Halley’s clothes and accessories are unique pieces with interesting patterns and shapes. She’s got skirts with wraparound detail and tops with crashing diagonals. I thought they went quite well with Moore’s new cropped ’do.

That said, there were plenty of places in the movie that could have been much better. Moore herself leaves much to be desired. Her idea of a tantrum is to pout her lips and storm out of the house (or storm into the house, if she was already outside). I lost track of all the cliches that were thrown needlessly into this movie. Of course, there’s the mandatory pop music as the camera pans across the high school, this time provided by Skye Sweetnam’s “Billy S,” which has already taken over local top-40 radio stations.

Worst of all, however, are the long monologues about love. Moore has quite a few, dispelling the idea of true love, and then there are her dissenters, who give arguments for their side. The big one is a scene near the end where Ford is required to give a profession of love, a scene more torturous than sweet.

If you’re not a teen movie fan, How To Deal won’t convince you otherwise. And if you are, be forewarned that this movie handles some adult themes, yet still provides that happily ever after at the end.

—Kelly Hsu


hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

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