How to Deal

Few teen movies today try to deal with real issues that teenagers today face, which is why How to Deal is so promising. It is also the reason why How to Deal fails miserably. Instead of focusing on one issue and exploring it in depth, it feels the need to cram in just about every possible dilemma that a teenager may face into the life of Halley Martin (Mandy Moore, A Walk to Remember, The Princess Diaries), a seventeen-year old high school student. Her sister Ashley (Mary Catherine Garrison, Moonlight Mile) announces her engagement the same day her mother Lydia (Allison Janney, Finding Nemo, The Hours) finalizes her divorce. Halley's father (Peter Gallagher, Mr. Deeds, Center Stage) is a local soft rock radio station disc jockey, who is now engaged to his much younger traffic correspondent. Want more? Halley's best friend Scarlett (Alexandra Holden, The Hot Chick, Sugar & Spice) falls in love, her boyfriend dies and she finds out she's pregnant, and finally, a Macon (Trent Ford, Gosford Park, Deeply), a hot, young, and potentially dangerous schoolmate, begins falling for Halley.

But wait, there's more! Ashley is having problems with her fiance, and Halley's grandmother (Nina Foch, Pumpkin, Shadow of Doubt) smokes out in their bathroom. Then, throw in some more subplots about drinking and potential teen sex, and who knows what else. After raising these issues, How to Deal proceeds to give itself a lobotomy. The film deals with every issue in the most condescending way possible. Condescending in that after bringing forth relevant issues, the film proceeds like a sitcom. Everything resolves itself nicely, wrapped up with a pretty pink bow. While these problems may be realistic, How to Deal turns into an afternoon special.

How to Deal is based on two books by Sarah Dessen, Someone Like You and That Summer. This may explain why so many problems appear. Cut the number in half and it may seem a tad bit more true-to-life. This is the essence of the problem. Neena Beber (Picture This) adapted the novels, and Clare Kilner directed. The last film she directed was a horrid mess entitled Janice Beard: 45 Words Per Minute, that, thankfully, few people ever saw (this site was not so lucky). Beber and Kilner are squeezing too much into one film, making it inherently ridiculous.

This is not great for Janney and Moore. Janney's performance is good, but she is on screen for so little time that it will not get the recognition it deserves. Moore is trying her best at acting. She seems to be picking projects carefully, avoid the teensploitation films that most people her age gravitate towards. She's not a bad actress, and has lots of potential that is evident here in spurts. However, the Halley character is a little too cliched and the script a little too hokey. Beber gives her lots of lame dialogue, and Halley never does anything that people could not have predicted half an hour before. Worst off is Ford. He is saddled with some horrific lines, enough to cause people watching to laugh. Instead of looking hot, he looks confused. At one point near the beginning, Halley is reluctant to enter into a relationship with Macon because she can see firsthand the havoc that love can wreak. It sounds a lot like Cassandra, the protagonist of I Capture the Castle. It may not be realistic in terms of its setting (a castle in 1930s England) but the way it touches upon universal teenage themes is so much better than this film.

Haro Rates It: Pretty Bad.
1 hour, 41 minutes, Rated PG-13 for sexual content, drug material, language, and some thematic elements.

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