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Halley Martin (Mandy Moore) is a teen with a lot on her plate. Her parents have just divorced; but her father Len (Peter Gallagher), and her sister Ashley (Mary Catherine Garrison) have both announced impending nuptials. Meanwhile, her mother Lydia (Allison Janney) is understandably bitter about love. Some of this has rubbed off on Halley, who doesn’t see the point in falling in love, despite the fact that her best friend Scarlett (Alexandra Holden) has done just that with her boyfriend Michael (John White). When Michael dies from a heart defect, and Scarlett finds she’s pregnant with his baby, Halley’s worst fears seem to have been confirmed. But how will she deal with her feelings for Macon Forrester (Trent Ford), a friend who’s slowly becoming more than that?

Review by David Edwards:
For a film titled How to Deal, this rather pallid exercise in teen angst gives surprisingly little insight into how to cope with what life throws at you. Despite ostensibly being based on two novels (Someone Like You and That Summer) by Sarah Dessen, this is a thinly disguised reworking of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. If that sounds familiar, it’s because that particular premise has been done before – and better – in 10 Things I Hate About You. For a while there, this movie felt like an exercise in shopping-list cinema, as director Clare Kilner checked off the life dramas confronting her characters – death, divorce, teen pregnancy. But despite the seemingly heavy subject-matter, the worst dilemma our heroine Halley has to face in the whole film is whether to kiss her boyfriend or not (!).

Hampered by Kilner’s tentative direction, the film meanders for most of its 100-odd minutes running time. The characters are mostly ill-defined and some of the more interesting ones (like Scarlett) are forgotten about as Kilner runs down her list. Scenes clearly meant to be touching end up being dull, while scenes meant to be funny barely raise a smile. A stodgy and predictable script by Neena Beber doesn’t help either. This is one of those movies in which you know, as soon as big sister announces in the opening minutes that she’s having a spring wedding, that there’s going to be a dramatic scene at that very same wedding at the end of the film. Many of the scenes are straight lifts from other films; while others are so clunky, they at least provide some light relief from the characters’ anguish. 

One bright spot is the performance of Mandy Moore. The pop diva seems to be making a successful cross-over into cinema on the back of A Walk to Remember. Here she doesn’t have a lot to work with, but at least she makes Halley a credible, even likeable character. The same can be said for the always-engaging Allison Janney as her mother, while veteran actress Nina Foch provides a real highlight as Halley’s pot smoking Grandma (no pun intended). Trent Ford has some interesting moments as Macon, but on other occasion seems to struggle.

How to Deal is a routine, even mundane, teen romance. I suspect many teens will find this dreary, while it’s far too shallow to engage older viewers with redeeming features too few and far between. As a result, despite some solid performances, How to Deal is almost instantly forgettable.

Published February 19, 2004

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CAST: Mandy Moore, Allison Janney, Trent Ford, Alexandra Holden, Dylan Baker, Nina Foch, Mackenzie Asti

DIRECTOR: Clare Kilner

SCRIPT: Neena Beber (novel by Sarah Dessen)

RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes

PRESENTATION: Widescreen 16: 9 Enhanced; dolby digital 5.1

SPECIAL FEATURES: Theatrical trailer


DVD RELEASE: February 17, 2004

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