Movie: Coming of age movies are a dime a dozen and those examples that are made specifically as devices to carry a crossover act tend to fall flat more often than not. Whether it's because the performer insists on altering a story that had otherwise been good or if the story was weak to begin with, it works out the same in the end. Such is the case with a little movie released by New Line, How To Deal.
The movie was designed for the teen pop sensation Mandy Moore, noted for her over produced bubblegum music and attractive look, to further her acting career. Had she been given something better to work with, she may well have done a better job but there was scant evidence of any acting talent in the movie by even veteran supporting cast members who must really be on hard times to take such stereotypical roles. The movie itself shows Mandy as a high school student going through some tough times, from death, to her father remarrying, to a sisters marriage, to her mom selling the house she's lived in for her whole life, to just about every other problem a youngster could possibly face in life (they left out suicide and drug overdoses but if reminded of this, I'm sure the director's cut will fix it in no time).
In any case, she stumbles through life with two expressions, either glum and sour or perky and happy with no middle road, trying to make the most of her life's little challenges in a manner that only fans could possibly appreciate. The direction on the movie was terrible as was the screenplay with the acting taking a close third in the race to establish this as a train wreck. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure the movie will appeal to pre-teen kids and those who don't care for plot or intelligent writing but when I watched it with a group of friends recently (my test disc didn't work on my home player), not one of them liked more than a couple of jokes, and even then they were laughing AT the movie, not with it. The actors looked their parts quite nicely and I'm left to think the casting director didn't hold auditions but went through resumes instead (using the pictures to determine who would work with the lovely Ms. Moore) and the lack of chemistry was apparent from the beginning. I wanted to like it (I think Ms. Moore's music is pleasant enough in the background on the local radio station) but it fell flat in more ways than I could count. I think it's worth a rating of Skip It unless you're very young or just want to watch the lead go through the paces.
Picture: The picture was presented in anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1 ratio color. I saw a lot of grain in some scenes, particularly the darker scenes and some video noise as well. There were compression artifacts too but they weren't as noticeable as the soft focus was in the first half of the movie. It looked much like a movie made seven or eight years ago with a few budget constraints than a new release. As a side note, my screener copy was a test disc and didn't play on my home Toshiba player, I doubt the full home version had this problem but I wanted to keep y'all posted.
Sound: The audio was presented with a choice of either a 5.1 Dolby Digital surround English track or a 2.0 Dolby Digital track. The 5.1 track was the better of the two but didn't make much use out of the rear speakers except in a few music sequences or when thrown in for no apparent reason. There was a choice of optional English or Spanish subtitles for those wanting them as well. In general, the audio was competently done with a solid mix between the usually clear and crisp vocals and the varied soundtrack. If given the choice, I think I'd rather own the CD than the movie itself since the music was pretty decent.
Extras: The extras were plentiful in this New Line release, with an audio commentary by Mandy Moore, Alexandra Holden and director Clare Kilner that showed how a commentary could be better than the movie it's made for (don't get any ideas though, this was because the movie stunk, not because the gals gave great…commentary). They didn't go into any great detail about the story itself; I was expecting them to say they threw out the script on the second day of shooting but they stuck with anecdotal memories of the filming instead. There were three short featurettes: "Moore" On Mandy (7:45), "Macon" Trent (7:15), and To Be "Clare" (4:15) as well as a longer (28:15) behind the scenes look at the adaptation of the movie with scenes from the shoot. There were 7 minutes of deleted scenes (just four scenes) and some trailers, including one to the feature itself. Lastly, there were two music videos; Skye Sweetnam singing "Billy S" and Liz Phair singing "Why Can't I", which were two major highlights of the show for me. I really wish someone would release full DVD's with such videos for consumers as I'd love to plunk down my cash for them (if done right). If you have a DVD-Rom player, you can also activate the special features that included some interactive activities and a script to screen feature as well as a series of wallpapers for your computer. I didn't get a consumer release so I don't know if a paper insert was included in the release.
Final Thoughts: The movie was not the worst I've seen all year but it sure came close. The technical failings aside, I was left to wonder why the movie was so poorly conceived and executed. If you're a fan, check it out but don't say I didn't warn you.