It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Godard famously informed us that the history of cinema is the history of boys photographing girls, and although "How to Deal" may not be very good, it is splendidly historical in Godardian terms. The girl is Mandy Moore, who has such an unaffected natural charm that she almost makes the movie worth seeing. Still only 19, she made her starring debut in "A Walk to Remember" (2002), and has five more projects in the pipeline, including one called "Untitled Mandy Moore Project," which pretty clearly establishes who is the star.
"How to Deal" has some good things in it, including a performance by Allison Janney as a mother who is allowed to be more human and complicated than the average mom of a movie teenager. There's also a strong performance by Alexandra Holden, as the heroine's best friend, facing an unexpected pregnancy with more character than some of the adults show.
Moore stars as Halley Martin (is it a coincidence that the first name is an echo of Hayley Mills, who in her early pictures had the same freshness?). She narrates the story, which is based on the young adult novels Someone Like You and That Summer, by Sarah Dessen. We have come upon her during a period of disturbing changes in her life: Her father has walked out of the marriage and taken up with a radio weather bimbo, her sister is marrying into a family of rich snobs, her best friend is dealing with a big moral decision, and Halley herself is faced with the alarming prospect of her first romance. The boy is Macon (Trent Ford), and the fact that he's a nice guy only makes her choices more complicated.
The movie attempts to deal in a healthy manner with teenage sexuality (which Halley is none too eager to experience), broken marriages and learning to be yourself. But it's too heavy on issues and too light on just observing the characters and enjoying their freshness. Three other recent movies about articulate teenagers, "Bend It Like Beckham," "Whale Rider" and "I Capture the Castle," are smarter and more nuanced, and you don't see the plot changing gears so obviously. Still, that there are four movies in which teenage girls resolutely find their way in the world is an encouragement; shame about boys.