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How to Deal

Teenager Halley Martin doesn't believe in storybook romance and thinks love just complicates friendships--until she meets Macon, the one boy who is able to break through her fears and perhaps allow her to experience real love for the first time.


The teen drama How To Deal revolves around 17-year-old Halley Martin (Mandy Moore), a high school girl who has grown wary of love after witnessing the effect it has had on the people around her. Her mother Lydia (Allison Janney) is still bitter about her divorce from Halley's father Len (Peter Gallagher), an obnoxious radio DJ who has just announced his impending nuptials on the airwaves. Her sister Ashley (Mary Catherine Garrison), meanwhile, is preparing to walk down the aisle with a guy that's all wrong for her. Oh, and let's not forget Halley's best friend Scarlett, who falls in love with a cute guy, loses all sensibilities, has unprotected sex and gets pregnant. But Halley's down-with-love attitude goes out the window when she meets a cute boy of her own, Macon Forrester (Trent Ford). Staying faithful to the teen romance formula, the picture sees Halley rebuff Macon to shield herself form a potential broken heart, only to eventually succumb to his boyish charm. The most interesting thing about this syrupy movie is Halley's character, an unconventional individual who sticks to her convictions and isn't concerned with what other people--including her peers--think. If teenage girls can at least walk away with this message, it makes sitting through this film worth it.


Moore made her big-screen debut in 2001 with a small voiceover role in Dr. Dolittle 2 and next as a school bully in The Princess Diaries. But it was last year's teen drama A Walk To Remember that garnered a warm reception from fans and critics alike. And it's not surprising; the down-to-earth 19-year-old actress has an intelligence that comes through in her work. In many respects, Moore's character Halley in How To Deal is similar to the role she played in A Walk To Remember: both are adolescents running from, finding, and coming to terms with first love. For her follow-up headlining feature, it would have been interesting to see Moore in a different kind of part, like the role of troubled Astrid in White Oleander or the vixenish Mary in 25th Hour--Moore could easily fall into the trap of being typecast in flaky romantic comedies à la Julia Stiles. As Macon, Ford (Gosford Park) is definitely a good subject for the glossy pages of Tiger Beat magazine, but the chemistry between the two young stars on-screen is just passable.


Based on a combination of two young adult romance novels by Sarah Dessen (Someone Like You and That Summer) and directed by Clare Kilner, How To Deal comes across as an amalgam of John Hughes '80s pics, but at least those two decade-old films had storylines that were somewhat cohesive. Here, it seems like screenwriter Neena Beber injected the script with scenes that didn't necessarily fit, but were added because they're expected in angst-y teen pics. When Lydia, for instance, reprimands her daughter for engaging in a heavy petting session with Macon on the living room couch, Halley launches into a diatribe about Mom being too wrapped up in her bitter divorce to care about what's going on her daughter's life--which begs the question, was I watching the same movie? Up until this point, Halley and her mother appeared to get along fine and there didn't seem to be much resentment on the mother's part towards Halley's father. And despite Halley's strong spirit and independent nature, the movie sends the message that women can only find true happiness in the form of the opposite sex, given that the female characters only seem to move forward with their lives once they have entered into romantic relationships.

Bottom Line

Director Clare Kilner's How To Deal is too derivative and although star Mandy Moore puts forth a good effort in her second headlining feature, How To Deal, it is too similar to every teen drama that has come before it.