Inevitably, every single time I told someone I was going to go see the movie How To Deal with Mandy Moore, someone would ask me, “Is it going to be the same as that OTHER Mandy Moore movie?”
What they meant was, “Is it going to be a weepy, teen-angst-ridden drama where someone dies of an incurable disease?” This makes me feel bad for Mandy. Even though she turned in a memorable performance in A Walk To Remember, all anyone can remember (natch) is the calculated storyline courtesy of novelist Nicholas Sparks. She deserves better, but I’m not sure How To Deal is it.
Mandy’s second feature film is the result of a marriage between two Sarah Dessen novels, “That Summer” and “Someone Like You.” Before I sat down to type this review, I made myself write over and over in a notebook, I will not compare this movie to the books, I will not compare this movie to the books… That said, if you’re familiar with the books you should know that How To Deal takes the Halley and Scarlett characters from “Someone Like You” and gives Halley the dysfunctional family from “That Summer.” Some of the secondary characters are shaken and stirred, and are then distributed randomly throughout the script which somehow manages to cram an awful lot of the storylines from both books into an hour and forty minutes.
This is my main complaint about How To Deal, not that the movie is different from the books, but that it tries to do too many things and ends up doing almost none of them particularly well. It’s as if screenwriter Neena Beber sat down with a list of all the main points of action from both novels and went about checking them off one by one as she managed to squeeze them into the script.
The relationships between some of the characters suffer. Halley and her best friend Scarlett (Alexandra Holden) surmount amazing obstacles, but there is little background to explain why they depend on each other like they do. Scarlett and her mom have obvious issues that are hinted at but never go anywhere. Then there’s Halley and her beau Macon (Trent Ford), who have too-few very beautiful scenes together before their actual courtship takes place in a montage. Before you know it, they’ve gone too far, broken up and gotten back together. Sure, he lures her in with his Jordan-Catalano-like lean, but what is it about him that makes her fall in love?
The one thing that isn’t rushed is Halley’s relationship with her mother (played by Allison Janney). Halley is 15, and at that age girls are not best friends with their mothers, who can never possibly understand what it’s like to be 15 regardless of the fact that they were once that age themselves. There are lots of movies out there where the parent tries too hard, or is barely involved at all, or is the Best Friend. How To Deal gets parent-child relationships right. Halley wants to be trusted, but doesn’t want to earn it. She wants to make her own mistakes, but is scared to go for it. She throws things and rages and slams doors and pouts. Janney plays the mother, dealing with her kids and divorce and her ex-husband’s public remarriage, with amazing class. She brings out something in Mandy that no one else in this movie could – she makes her an actress worth keeping your eye on.
To answer the lingering question, no, How To Deal isn’t like that other Mandy Moore movie. Although it’s cramped in places and slow in others – the wedding of Halley’s sister to The Most Boring Boy On Earth comes to mind – this Mandy Moore movie was birthed from novels that understood the fundamentals of teenage behavior and thought. While other things may have been lost in the translation from book to movie, this wasn’t.