HOW TO DEAL - DVD review

The worst aspect of 'How to Deal' is its writing.


Melodrama (noun):
1. a. A drama, such as a play, film, or television program, characterized by exaggerated emotions, stereotypical characters, and interpersonal conflicts.
b. The dramatic genre characterized by this treatment.

Singer-actress Mandy Moore seems to want to be the queen of teen melodramas. She starred in the above-average "A Walk to Remember", and she played a small role in the flat (straight-to-video) "All I Want". "How to Deal" is the third teen melodrama on Moore's résumé, and my advice to her is to stay away from the genre for good. Moore's a decent performer, but she doesn't seem to be able to pick worthwhile scripts.

The worst aspect of "How to Deal" is its writing. The film was adapted from two novels ("Someone Like You" and "That Summer") by young-adults literature writer Sarah Dessen. Usually, when a story is adapted from multiple sources, timid writers make the mistake of trying to include as many plot elements as they can from their inspirations. Therefore, "How to Deal" feels like an assemblage of episodes that have little to do with each other. Also, the tone is all wrong. The movie wants to be a melodrama that handles serious topics like teen pregnancy, divorce, and love, but it also wants to be laugh-out-loud funny with unbelievable set-ups. (For example, there's a scene that involves the main character telling her guidance counselor that she doesn't belong in band because she can't play an instrument and that she shouldn't be in the boys' P.E. class. The guidance counselor tells her that she should try things before passing judgment. WTF?) A film that wants to be two things at a time and not being able to do either well is simply a disaster.

In the movie, high schooler Halley (Moore) has a tough time dealing with her parents' divorce, her older sister getting married, and her best friend Clare (Alexandra Holden) getting pregnant after her best friend's boyfriend dies of heart failure while playing soccer one day. Macon (Trent Ford), Clare's dead boyfriend's best friend, shows interest in dating Halley. She resists him at first because she sees how futile it can be to love people on a romantic level. However, once she begins kissing and cuddling with Macon, she begins to succumb to love on a physical level.

I don't mind the nature of the problems that the story throws at its characters, but I do mind the filmmakers' ham-fisted way of dealing with those problems. If you take a step back and look at things, Halley's life isn't all that bad, but she bitches and whines about how love is dangerous. At her age, Halley doesn't know anything about romantic love, so it's ridiculous for her to be so thick-headed. After her boyfriend dies, Clare seems to shrug off reality, as if she thinks that raising a baby on her own while she's in her teens is just peachy. The romantic angle between Halley and Macon seems forced because there is simply no chemistry between Mandy Moore and Trent Ford.

I seriously don't know who the intended audience is supposed to be. Adults and mature viewers will think that the movie's situations and attitudes are juvenile, simplistic, and laughable (not in a good way), and there's enough foul language and sexual allusions (i.e. half-clothed people kissing each other) to make it unsuitable for kids under the age of fourteen. As the film's PG-13 rating does not bar those under the age of thirteen from watching it (as R and NC-17 ratings would to certain age groups), I strongly advise parents to be careful about letting their children see "How to Deal" due to its content.

Mandy Moore's acting is yet another problem area. Miss Moore has a spark that shows up well in movies (see "The Princess Diaries" and "A Walk to Remember"). Her "real-life" persona (as seen in interviews) is very cute and likable. However, she isn't able to sustain her character in "How to Deal", and in some of her "emotional" scenes, she acts badly. Of course, when you have such bad writing and such bad directing, maybe the actors can't do much with their parts anyway.

By the way...not meaning to pick on her, but Alexandra Holden seems to be unable to find her way into a good movie. Poor girl...

The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks decent, but it has its share of problems. The opening credits sequence looks dull and lifeless despite the use of colorful fonts and despite being a "look-up-at-the-sun" shot. There are several scenes that have dots/speckling/pixel drop-outs, all possibly attributable to dust that wasn't cleaned off of the film print.

The "How to Deal" disc is a DVD-14. On the dual-layered side, you will find the widescreen version and the film's extras. On the single-layered side, you will find the Pan&Scan version. The Pan&Scan transfer shares the widescreen transfer's technical qualities, but artistically, it should be avoided. (Then again, the movie should be avoided, period.)

While the sound design for a small-drama like this one isn't going to win prizes, I have to say that the Dolby Digital 5.1 English track makes a good impression. The lively music bounces from speaker to speaker, creating a comfortably wide audio expanse. Sound effects and the music never bury or compete with the actors' voices for attention, so you can always hear what the actors are saying. The audio is unremarkable, yes, but it is certainly pleasant.

There's also a DD 2.0 surround English track (recommended for those of you watching the movie without DD sound system set-up). Optional English and Spanish subtitles as well as optional English closed captions support the audio.

At first glance, the DVD seems to offer promising bonuses. However, as extras can be only as good as the movie that they're supporting, you shouldn't be surprised to see a "4" rating for them.

There's an audio commentary by Mandy Moore, Alexandra Holden, and director Clare Kilner. This is basically a giggle track with the ladies complimenting each other. As the movie has nothing to say about anything, the commentary's participants have nothing substantive to say about anything, either.

There are a couple of featurettes on the disc. "‘Moore' on Mandy" has Mandy Moore talking about her acting career and her approach to her character in "How to Deal". "‘Macon' Trent" focuses on Trent Ford's British accent and "hunk" factor. In "To Be ‘Clare'", Alexandra Holden talks about playing the sidekick in a movie.

"‘How to Deal' With Young-Adults Literature"

The disc also offers four deleted/alternate scenes, music videos for Skye Sweetnam's "Billy S." and Liz Phair's "Why Can't I", and a theatrical trailer.

Finally, clicking on the New Line logo on either side's Main Menu leads to a couple of pages of DVD production credits.

Placing the disc in a computer's DVD-ROM drive enables you to access New Line's "Script-to-Screen" program for the film. "Commentary Digests" offers samples of the audio commentary. "Scene Medleys" looks at relative highlights from the movie. There's an interactive photo gallery, and you can also access various weblinks when you experience the DVD with a computer.

A mini-booklet provides notes on the disc's DVD-ROM content and chapter listings.

Film Value:
"How to Deal" is the worst kind of melodrama. It introduces a lot of accidents/tragedies without trying to say anything about them. For some odd reason, the film also tries to be funny despite all the sad things that the characters experience. All of this is done straight without a hint of the possibility of the film being a farce or a dark comedy. "How to Deal" isn't unwatchable, but it's pretty close to being so.


Film Value