Main cast: Mandy Moore (Halley Martin), Allison Janney (Lydia Martin), Trent Ford (Macon Forrester), Alexandra Holden (Scarlett Smith), Dylan Baker (Steve Beckwith), Nina Foch (Grandma Halley), Mackenzie Astin (Lewis Warsher), Connie Ray (Marion Smith), Mary Catherine Garrison (Ashley Martin), and Peter Gallagher (Len Martin)
Director: Clare Kilner
How to Deal could have been a really good teen drama if it is better edited and has all the extraneous subplots left on the cutting room floor. The really messy subplots and the horrendously slow pace all make this movie feels as if its running time is clocking four hours past eternity instead of merely 101 minutes.
Sixteen-year old Halley Martin is a smartass cynic in love. However, the first dent to her shield comes from her best friend Scarlett’s relationship with a boy that ends in tragedy when this boy dies of a heart attack in a game while Scarlett and Halley is in attendance. After the funeral, Scarlett learns that she is pregnant. Halley, in between giving her friend the support she needs, also finds herself attracted to bad boy Macon Forrester. Meanwhile, her sister Ashley is marrying Lewis Warsher, a man from old money that comes with parents that don’t think that Ashley is worthy of their son. Mom is persuaded to start dating again but she can’t get over her broken marriage to a showy but substance-free radio deejay Len. Grandma may have the right idea in smoking marijuana as she’s the happiest person on this show.
Right off the bat I can say that there are so many unnecessary subplots in this movie – like Mom’s love story with the Coke machine repairman, barely developed – that only add to the already awkwardly bloated movie that tries to address so many issues in halfbaked manner at the same time. Halley’s cynicism off course hides a passionate romantic soul inside, but good luck trying to follow her to getting there, when the movie has Macon and Halley just stare into each other’s eyes for no good reason for the most of the movie. Then there are the very stilted dialogues that don’t come off as real – most of the things these people say are too noticeably scripted and unspontaneous.
Still, there are some charms to this movie. Mandy Moore is a very likable actress here, although her very predictable way of biting her lips and raising her right eyebrow when she wants to show any emotion on screen soon becomes tedious. The boyfriends in this show are very appealing idealized counterparts to the real life jerks one often encounter in high school. Macon may be a “bad boy” but he’s more like a poor man’s Tom Welling, oozing with pained puppy-eyed “I’m misunderstood” blues that most teenage girls will find irresistible. His taking Halley to watch the stars and kiss under the “waterfall” at the local reservoir? How come I’ve never met guys like that when I was younger?
Well, as I’ve said, this movie could have been good. But it’s too badly paced and filled with too many unnecessary and underdeveloped subplots. Ultimately, this movie is a trial of endurance on my patience. It knows How to Deal squat at the end of the day.