How to Deal is a series of snapshots, momentary and extended glimpses into a specific period or event, which given time lead the movie into yet another quick hit further down the road. These snapshots aren't always congruous, leaving freshly mined storyline hanging to chase after another thread, only to return later with another snapshot in the original story's series. The only consistency is Halley (Mandy Moore), a close to growing up teen who finds herself as the centerpiece of a fractured story taking place over what I assume is approximately a year.
Mandy Moore continues to display a surprising amount of talent (if not range) in her acting ability. She has a gift for coming off as "real"; something that none of the other pop princess turned actress wannabe's has even come close to achieving. Unfortunately, How to Deal has none of the unconventional bravery of her first acting effort in A Walk to Remember, though Miss Moore still stays far away from the expected pretty-girl realm we'd all expect from a cast off pop princess.
It's just somewhat inane to obsess about a pretty, rich girl's inability to believe in love, when all around her, people she cares about are dealing with death, divorce, and teen pregnancy. When her best friend gets pregnant, Halley doesn't learn to use a condom, instead she learns to stop believing in love. Halley comes off as self absorbed, and expends far too much energy on self-pity. There are few things less entertaining than listening to a 17-year-old kid lecture an audience about the meaning of life.
I don't mean to make How to Deal sound shallow, this isn't after all a Freddie Prinze movie, nor is Mandy Moore making her own personal version of Crossroads. The film has the bravery to tread firmly into serious issues and handle them with a bold delicacy that can be both touching and insightful. In fact it is all serious issues, which becomes a bit unbelievable as serious issues keep piling up in an almost avalanche like fashion. The fact that these varying shades of "Lifetime Movie of the Week" disasters all revolve around Halley's abortively young love life is what ties it all together, but the connection just doesn't seem to fit.
I guess that this must be one of those movies that only women can get. Mandy Moore's version of Steel Magnolia's perhaps. The performances are certainly strong, with veteran actress Allison Janney lending some credibility to the film and Alexandra Holden capably filling her usual role as the best friend of a more important member of the cast. Because of that, and what seems to be at least a well-meaning script, there's nothing terminally wrong with this Deal, but I can think of no reason for it to stand out either. Moore continues to prove that she may have some potential acting talent, but needs to find something more challenging than How to Deal if she wants to develop it.