by Collin Souter
“How To Deal” tells the story of a character who just happens to be there. She really has nothing to do with anything, except that she carries a blood relation with a few of the characters who have real problems. Her job in the movie is “to deal” with those problems any way she can. These solutions involve: a) lying in bed, b) pouting, c) pretending these problems are hers, d) staring up at the rain machine after a funeral until one of the rain drops lands right in her nose causing her to choke uncontrollably and, while flailing her arms about, knocking over the off-screen buffet table and bringing about the destruction of the Tower of Bagel, which in turn knocks a live power cable out of whack, causing it to land in a deep puddle of water, thereby electrocuting the entire cast and crew, or e) all of the above.The movie tells the story of a 16 or 18-year old, Halley Martin (Mandy Moore), whose sister, Ashley (Mary Catherine Garrison), will be marrying the uptight whiter-than-white Lewis, played by the bitter and resentful Astin, Mackenzie. His proposal to her just happens to have occurred just as Halley’s mother, Lydia (Allison Janney), got her divorce from a wacky morning zoo lite-rock shock jock, Len (Peter Gallagher), who will eventually marry his co-host (Poor Peter Gallagher. He spends a couple scenes looking lost and not saying a word, which sort of goes against the whole loud-mouth shock-jock thing).
"'Sixteen Candles' as re-written by Britney Spears"
Meanwhile, Halley’s best friend, Scarlett (Alexandra Holden), has just been knocked up by her boyfriend, a cupie-doll boy-band reject who has taken to playing soccer, a game so lethal and deadly, it ends up killing him. Literally. I mean, he drops dead right there on the field. Just keels over. I’m serious. I can’t make this up. She gets pregnant and he dies. And Halley’s sister’s wedding is in nine months. Are you seeing the ending coming yet?
And no, this is not a paragraph transition where I say “Just kidding.” He’s dead. So, at his funeral, his best friend, Macon Forrester (Trent Ford), gives a eulogy looking like John Popper after a stomach stapling (thanks, Nikki). He ends up smooth-talking his way into Halley’s heart and pretty soon they fall in love. Now she must “deal” with this whole first love thing, but that’s about it. The wedding? That’s her sister’s problem. The divorce? That’s her mother’s problem. The pregnancy? That’s her best friend’s problem. The first love? Well, that’s her problem and she does “deal” with it, but she pretty much just pouts at everything else.
Her love interest, Macon Forrester, conveniently has no parents, which means he can go out late at night whenever he wants to and throw rocks and frogs at Halley’s window as a romantic gesture. He also likes to come over to her house unannounced so he can strap a leaf-blower to her back. Apparently, he saw one too many episodes of Rocket Man. Sorry, Macon, but you can’t blast Mandy Moore off God’s green earth with that flimsy method. We’ve tried.
And because he has no parents, I am forced to assume he is not human, but rather a typical “male dreamboat” specimen concocted in a lab just outside Jersey. I’m also guessing the actor, Trent Ford (if that is his real name), also spent a lot of time in high school answering the same question from all the guidance counselors (“What do you think you’re going to do without any talent? Get by on your looks?” “Well, yeah.”).
Halley also has a stoned Grandmother (Nina Foch) and, yes, for those of you keeping score at home, that marks the second one this year. The first, if I may be so bold as to remind you of this cinematic travesty, came in the form of Joan Plowright in “Bringing Down The House.” Would you believe me if I also told you that the Grandmother here also makes a racial slur at the hired help who happens to be an African-American woman? Oh, but the Grandmother’s stoned! Get it? And she’s “got the munchees.” And she’s stoned! And she sees things. And she’s stoned! In case you forgot…and the movie will remind you if indeed you have forgotten…she’s stoned! GUFAAAAWWWWW-HAWWWW-HAWWW!!!
This movie represents another Hollywood version of a universal rite-of-passage of sorts. I can be a sucker for teen angst dramas, but this just seems so unbelievably calculated. “Make sure we got the cute kids. Make sure it takes place in the suburbs. Make sure we get at least five rock bands on the soundtrack BESIDES Mandy Moore. Make sure we have no minorities in it. Make sure when the girl gets pregnant that she actually has the kid instead of aborting it, so as to avoid controversy. Make sure we can rate it PG-13 so we don’t look like COMPLETE wusses.” Like the tag line on the poster reads: “Rule #1. There are no rules.” Yet, why does the movie seem so reluctant to break them?As you can imagine, “How To Deal” doesn’t “deal” with any of these situations in a realistic manner. It all becomes very cartoon-ish and frivolous. I have no doubt that some teenage girls will be able to relate to some of it, but when times get hard for a teenager, they need to turn to more serious-minded affairs such as “Heathers” or “Ghost World,” a movie where their problems don’t get solved with the arrival of, to quote Long Duck Dong, an “oily bo-hunk.” Without this Macon character, Halley would be spending the whole movie just staring at everybody. This is supposed to teach teenage girls “how to deal” with everybody’s problems? What if you’re not good-looking and can’t get the bo-hunk? Tell them, Mandy. “How” are they supposed “to deal” with that?
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=7989&reviewer=233
originally posted: 07/20/03 02:56:35