Although I think I regarded her as something of a one-hit wonder after her first hit, "Candy", Mandy Moore has taken steps to try and alter the course of her career. Aside from moving out of teen pop (her recent album, "Coverage", tackles 60's and 70's pop songs with grace and skill and her recent self-titled effort was a large step forward in terms of singing, instrumentals and songwriting), Moore has also shown potential as an actress. Although widely dismissed as a teen soap, her portrayal of a teenager with a secret in "A Walk To Remember" was moving, subtle and charming. She has a natural quality, seems bright and intelligent, and handles emotional scenes well. There's also a quiet, delicate nature about her recent performances that is pretty refreshing.
It's too bad, then, that "How to Deal" doesn't offer the singer/actress much to work with. Moore stars as Halley Martin, a teenager whose world seems to be falling in around her. Her parents are getting a divorce, her father (Peter Gallagher, looking embarassed) - who tries to act half his age, is marrying a bimbo, her friend is forced to face a tragedy, her mother wants to sell the house she grew up in, one of the characters gets pregnant, she's being followed around by a nice guy who's got a crush on her, she gets the wrong schedule in school, she doesn't want to fall in love and has conflicting emotions on romance and......
Oy. I liked these characters, I liked most of the performances, but this is another one of those teen films that seemed to try and shoehorn in the majority of the issues that teenagers face into 95 minutes. Worse yet, one can see the gears shift as the picture drops one problem and locks into another. Desperately in need of some comic relief, the picture throws in a pot-smoking grandmother - an idea so absurd against the rest of the film that it manages to bring a few unexpected laughs.
While the story doesn't work, the performances at least make things halfway decent. Allison Janey takes a cliched part and turns Halley's mother into a complex, interesting character. She and Dylan Baker ("Happiness"), who plays her potential love interest, also have nice chemistry together. Moore does a fine job trying to turn heavy, melodramatic material into something delicate and involving. While she's not always successful (I don't know if anyone could be), it's another nice, natural effort that I liked.
Overall, the film does have some strengths, but the cast certainly deserved better material. Some streamlining of the issues the film confronts could have helped make this feel a little less "Movie of the Week".
VIDEO: "How To Deal" is presented by New Line in both 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and 1.33:1 full-frame. The full-frame side is on one side of the disc, while the anamorphic widescreen edition is on the dual-layer second side. The anamorphic widescreen presentation doesn't stand out as being one of the studio's finer efforts, although it's not terrible, either. Sharpness and detail vary throughout the picture, as some of the low-light scenes seem muddy, although that may be because the the film seems underlit at times.
Other flaws occur, too: edge enhancement is clearly visible in some of the early scenes, but doesn't turn up quite as often or quite as strongly in the rest of the picture. Darker scenes also showed off a few rather distracting instances of compression artifacts. Colors generally looked warm and well-saturated, but could appear slightly smeary in some of the film's darker scenes. Overall, this was simply a slightly above-average transfer.
SOUND: The film's soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The audio is largely front-heavy, with the picture being mostly dialogue-driven. The occasional loud song does sound dynamic, but I can't say that I thought some of the more aggressive rock songs on the soundtrack were appropriate choices for this rather quiet drama.
Commentary: This is a track with actresses Mandy Moore and Alexandra Holden, who are joined by director Clare Kilner. The commentary is informative, but giggly, as the three women bounce between joking around about stories from the set and working with each other and sharing information about the shooting schedule and production issues.
Also: Featurettes on Mandy Moore, Trent Ford and director Clare Kilner; deleted/alternate scenes, the film's trailer and a featurette on the making of the film and the novels that were adapted for the film.
Final Thoughts: I liked the performances and I saw the potential of this turning into a nice, subtle drama, but the fact that it seemed calculated and piles on issue after issue start to make the film suffer. New Line's DVD provides average video quality, fine audio and a few good supplements. Recommended as a rental for Moore fans.
The Film ** 1/2