A review of “How to Deal” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: PG-13 for language and sexual content

Run Time: 1 hour, 41 minutes

 

 

I’m not ashamed to admit that I shed a tear or two during “A Walk to Remember”, Mandy Moore’s saccharine-coated, headlining debut that co-starred year-end hunk Shane West.  Moore possessed an onscreen presence that works equally as well in her sophomore effort -- a charming, new millennium coming-of-age story about the complexities of dealing with family, friends, and new love.

The genetically blessed Halley Martin (Moore) is a child of the times – freshly divorced parents (dad ran off with a bimbo), a pregnant best friend, and a quirky older sister in the throes of a volatile engagement.  Murphy’s Law (and the teen film coda) requires Halley to meet a man to complicate her already convoluted life, in this case a charismatic bad-boy (Trent Ford as Macon) with a surprising soft side.

It’s a tribute to Moore’s ability to captivate an audience that the thorny narrative flows smoothly, filled as it is with such adolescent clichés as multi-generational misunderstandings (mom and daughter regularly facing off), teen crises (high-school schedule snafus, heartbreak and death), and the on-again/off-again nature of a first love. Think contemporary John Hughes from his prolific “Sixteen Candles” period.  

Halley grapples with the concept of normal-equals-abnormal with a refreshing sincerity that pervades every frame. The plot pulls off a few unexpectedly dramatic kinks, adding unforeseen edge and a welcome surprise factor to the sentimental proceedings.

 I admire pop-singer Moore’s natural ability to tread softly around her relentlessly-churning PR machine.  Despite the endless magazine covers and gossip columns linking her to tennis heartthrob Andy Roddick, Moore gets down to the business of acting like a regular teenager – vulnerable, insecure, and brimming with spontaneous attitude.

Supporting cast is smart all around – Allison Janney as the quintessential jilted mom, Dylan Baker as the new man in mom’s life, and Peter Gallagher as Halley’s Peter Pan of a father. Nina Foch generates sparks as Halley’s candid to the point of demented grandma, and newcomer Ford has got it going on as the latter-day greaser with tousled, sexy looks and a core of sweetness. The young pair’s chemistry feels rock-solid and genuine.

Bravo Mandy Moore.  If you can win over my too-cool 16 and 19-year old daughters, you’re doing something very right.