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Halley Martin has a lot to deal with. More, in fact, than just about any noncommitted adult living in the middle-class free world. But that’s what happens when you crush together two already melodramatic teen novels into a marathon angstfest for the screen. How to Deal, drawn from Sarah Dessen’s Someone Like You and That Summer, opens with an upside-down shot of a perfect suburban home; inside we see Halley (Mandy Moore), likewise inverted against her perfect bedroom wall. Before you can think, Subtle!, the race for plot developments is on: Dad left, Sis is getting married, Best Friend is madly in love. That leaves plenty of room for sudden death, teen pregnancy, remarriage, an old-lady fall, a car crash—oh, and unexpected love, of course. Nevertheless, a fine performance by vet Allison Janney and the surprisingly skillful acting of Moore nearly fool you into thinking How to Deal is a thoughtful teen drama. As Halley’s heartbroken mom, Janney is at once resigned and bitter, able to joke about her situation yet make all her frustrations felt in one well-choreographed bout with a malfunctioning Coke machine. And Moore—helped in no small part by her luminous skin, which dominates nearly every scene—is absolutely radiant onscreen, elevating a by-the-numbers melancholy cynic into a character who’s never bratty or overly brooding. It’s really a shame about the movie’s nonsensical pacing, which speeds us through life-changing subplots while stretching more mundane ones from summer to fall to winter. It’s a shame, too, that director Clare Kilner and screenwriter Neena Beber give us not one understated moment. (Do we really need, for example, a song about a “guy who needs attention around the clock” during a radio-station-sponsored, helicopter-accompanied beach wedding?) Sadly, for those looking for an intelligent and realistic alternative to Hollywood’s typical high-school romance, the best advice on How to Deal is to not bother at all. —Tricia Olszewski