ninth symphony films - movie reviews

HOW TO DEAL (2003)

DIRECTOR  -  clair kilner

RATED  -  pg-13

GENRE  -  drama

LENGTH  -  102 minutes

RELEASED  -  18 july 2003

DISTRIBUTOR  -  new line cinema

OFFICIAL SITE  -  how to deal

ESTIMATED BUDGET  -  $16,000,000
how to deal - a shot from the film


buy the dvd from how to deal at

buy the dvd from how to deal at

a teenager, disillusioned by too many examples of love gone wrong, refuses to believe that true love exists. then this new guy comes along...

the story of the film was based on two completely different books.


picture from how to deal

picture from how to deal

picture from how to deal


three out of four possible stars

Mandy Moore has a bright future ahead of her as an actress in teen oriented films, though How To Deal is not as firm a feature film as was her last outing in the similarly themed, A Walk To Remember. But Moore seems at home in the genre, despite the scattered nature of her latest film. That's the best way to describe How To Deal, as it probably bites off more than it can chew in terms of theme. The plot is fairly basic (Moore's character sees countless examples of failed love and relationships around her and refuses to believe in love herself), but there are several minor story-lines that intrude upon the main love story between Moore's "Halley Martin" and co-star Trent Ford's bad boy, "Macon."

Though the sub-plots are a necessary addition to illustrate to Halley that love in all its forms is a gamble, it still feels as though Halley's story is not centered upon enough for the run of the movie. There are no less than three major sub-plots, all of which take a large chunk of time out of the film. And many times Moore's character is simply an observer when those sub-plots are being revealed. Halley Martin is many times a passive character who is acted upon, rather than a person who impacts the environment around her. One wouldn't expect this film to break the two hour mark just to ensure that all the stories were given their due (and this film doesn't), but perhaps some of the intricacies in those subplots should have been shifted to Halley Martin to create more depth of character.

But beyond the scattered nature of the story, the requisite tissue box scenes come early and often in this movie, making the term, "melodrama," the most accurate descriptor of the genre. Melodrama is not something that audiences should run away from (it's been done very well in films such as Terms of Endearment and Legends of the Fall), but the emotions in How To Deal swell to gigantic heights and crash back down to bottomless depths that make the characters' problems seem a little overcooked. There is a particularly surprising event at the end of the first act that will make older audience members, who might not be completely engrossed in the film, do a double take as it's a very weepy piece of melodrama, especially for a teen film.

But as the movie was not created with the sole idea of pleasing older audience members, the drama on screen will be more readily enjoyed by young teens, which is the definite demographic group sought by the filmmakers. Though potential viewers in the twenties, thirties, and beyond should not feel dread if they are brought to this film by a younger sibling, child, or friend. The drama is patently enjoyable throughout the film, even if it does stretch the tissue quotient at times. Each actor makes a positive impression on the audience, despite the weak screenplay.

Although the screenplay might have been more "fleshed out" on paper than it seemed on film (perhaps the editor was too gregarious?), the plot is not really the most lacking element. It's the dialogue. Though it's important to remember the film was created for young teens, the screenwriters should have had more faith in the intelligence of their intended audience. If the film was meant to be seen solely by five year olds, the dialogue might have been excusable. At worst, the dialogue interferes with the film's ability to be believable, and at best it can probably be tolerated by most audiences who are content to focus on the performances (which are good across the board).

It's not easy to separate bad dialogue from a good performance, but the cast in How To Deal make the dialogue an easier pill to swallow. And given the importance to the story of the supporting characters, strong performances seem to have been a must for this film to be a successful venture. Allison Janney, known for performing in a variety of genres, plays Moore's mother and does the romantic melodrama well, striking a good balance between the dramatic and the comedic in her character. Many times (and with other characters as well), the humor brought out of a very serious situation is what keeps the narrative from falling off the cliff of depression.

It's quite hard to watch a film where a character's life is that bad, but though bad things happen to most of the characters in this movie, there is always a decent amount of humor brought to the story. This film represents an effort on the filmmakers' part to create a serious and affecting drama for young teens that his hindered only by its lack of a clear main character and some lackluster dialogue. If one were to criticize the film on its dialogue alone, this film would see the straight-to-video bin fairly quickly. But with generous performances from actors such as Peter Gallagher (playing Moore's father) and Alexandra Holden (playing Moore's best friend, "Scarlett"), the film is emotionally satisfying, even if it doesn't always sound as intelligent as it should, given the heavy subject matter (death, divorce, broken hearts...).

Review by Kelsey Wyatt.

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