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'How to Deal'

Mandy Moore allowed to be more herself

Friday, July 18, 2003

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The good news about "How to Deal" is Mandy Moore isn't forced to wear shapeless dresses, sensible shoes and the pallor of someone with a potentially fatal disease, as in "A Walk to Remember." The not-so-good news is she's starring in a movie, adapted from two Sarah Dessen teen novels, that segues from scene to scene more like various chapters than a seamless whole.

"How to Deal


RATING: PG-13 for sexual content, drug material, language and some thematic elements.
STARRING: Mandy Moore, Allison Janney
DIRECTOR: Clare Kilner


Moore is Halley, who has sworn off love at the ripe old age of 17. Her parents (Allison Janney, Peter Gallagher) are newly divorced, her father is marrying "the bimbo," her older sister is engaged to a man she frequently argues with, and her best friend named Scarlett (Alexandra Holden) is head over heels and bedsheets for a boy.

Halley gets a sense of Scarlett's fever when she becomes friends -- and weighs becoming something more -- with fellow student Macon Forrester (Trent Ford). "How to Deal" follows Halley through a school year packed with enough stress-inducing events for a pair of movies.

"How to Deal," directed by Clare Kilner ("Janice Beard: 45 wpm"), should strike a chord with teens who come from divorced families. As Halley realizes, talking about her once picture-perfect family, "Maybe abnormal is normal."

But it introduces topics that would require huge, thoughtful discussions and never dramatizes a whisper of them. It fails to mention what Halley's mother does for a living and then occasionally forces Halley to overreact or turn shrill -- or maybe that's just Moore's relative inexperience. However, she's much more comfortable here than in "Walk," so she's clearly learning to deal with acting or picking projects.

By the way, if your daughter is going to giggle when the f-word is used on screen by Janney, she's too young for this movie. It also features a pot-smoking granny, drinking, the aforementioned teen sex and its unplanned consequences.

Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.

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