How to Deal Movie Poster Image

How to Deal



Even Moore fans may find this hard to deal with.
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2003
  • Running Time: 100 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

A grandmother's drug use is played for laughs.


Car crash. A young character dies suddenly.


Sexual references and situations, including adultery and teen pregnancy.


Some strong language.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Teen drinking and smoking, and marijuana use (portrayed as humorous).

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that the movie has some strong language, and teen smoking and drinking. The grandmother's use of marijuana is portrayed as humorous. Halley's friend and her boyfriend have sex and she becomes pregnant. Halley begins to have sex with her boyfriend, but then stops because she says she does not want to care too much about him. Halley's sister comes home drunk from a bachelorette party with a male stripper's underwear around her neck.

Kids say

Not yet rated
Review this title!

What's the story?

Mandy Moore plays Halley (named for the comet), hurt and angry because her radio-host father has left her mother for a younger woman. She thinks her sister's new engagement to a straight-laced young man as the divorce becomes final and her father announces (on his radio show) his own marriage plans is insensitive. When her best friend's boyfriend dies very suddenly, it seems to Halley that love can never work out well. So she tries to ignore her feelings for Macon (Trent Ford), a guy whose primary appeal seems to be the fact that most of his face is hidden by his bangs.

Is it any good?


Alison Janney and Dylan Baker do their best not to appear to be slumming, but the movie keeps tripping itself up on idiotic developments that are supposed to be comic. There's Halley's pot-smoking grandmother (played by 1940's movie star Nina Foch) and the stuffy family of the sister's fiance, and idiotic developments that are supposed to be touching (like a car accident). And it also has the worst costume design of any movie in decades.

HOW TO DEAL is based on two popular books by Sarah Dessen. The books' fans -- and Moore's -- will enjoy the movie. But those not already committed to the star or the books will find the movie hard going, because director Claire Kilner and screenwriter Neena Beeber demonstrate stunning ineptitude in translating written material to the screen. The story, the characters, and the relationships seem to go in completely different directions from scene to scene. Without knowing what's in the books, it is not episodic; it is incoherent. And the dialogue is just painful. Deal me out.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how it can be hard to take emotional risks -- but harder not to.

Movie details

Theatrical release date:July 18, 2003
DVD/Streaming release date:December 9, 2003
Cast:Allison Janney, Mandy Moore, Trent Ford
Director:Clare Kilner
Studio:New Line
Run time:100 minutes
MPAA rating:PG-13
MPAA explanation:sexual content, drug material, language and some thematic elements

This review of How to Deal was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

Great handpicked alternatives

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Adult Written bycriticalmom April 9, 2008

Definitely not for preteens!

Although Mandy Moore enjoyed success on the pop scene a few years back, and may attract younger girls because of this, this is definitely not for them. The coming of age story is about a teenage girl learning how to deal with the ups and downs of life including divorce, a friend's boyfriend's sudden death on a soccer field, teenage pregnancy, parents dating and remarrying, a pot smoking grandmother, a horrific car accident, snobby potential in laws, and the meaning of love. The girl is afraid to let love in her life. A really good looking young man pursues her, but he's kind of a lost soul as well. He brings her to a dope smoking New Year's Eve party and tries to get her to go all the way. The movie jumps all over the place as this teenage soap opera's ending is nearly nonsensical. The saving grace to all of this are the adult actors, particularly Allison Janney, who transcend the movie.
Adult Written bywonder dove November 17, 2012

Fairly decent teen comedy.

Cute movie! I rented this when it first came out and liked it (as a teen). I love Mandy Moore, so I basically watched it for her. Acting wasn't the best but what can you expect from a teen comedy. The movie deals with common coming of age topics like first loves, relationships, divorce, death, friendships and enemies. Halley (Mandy) is a confused teen who believes that love is a waste of time. She can't understand her mother who is seeing a new guy so close after getting divorced, or why her sister wants to get married, or even why her pregnant best friend Scarlett (Alexandra Holden) is in love with her boyfriend Michael. Even Michael's best friend Macon (Trent Ford) can't get Halley to come around. Until Michael suddenly dies, Halley tries to see things differently. When her and Macon finally become a couple, a car accident leaves Halley thinking that she made a mistake falling for him. The film is spot on for issues teens go through during adolescence. Halley has emotional breakdowns. I think she takes life too seriously. Some of the comedy is very silly and cliche like the pot-obessed grandma and the unlikable in-laws dinner scene. Mild violence includes a death of a teen and a car crash. Some sexual content includes kissing, making out on a couch prior to sleeping together, making out on a bed prior to sleeping together, it's implied that the mom sneaks out to go sleep with her new man, a mans g-string is shown after a drunk woman comes home from a wild bachelorette party (party not shown), some flirting, a teen pregnancy, a dog humps a persons leg. Language has an "f" word and some other common words you would hear in a PG-13 film. The grandma is obsessed with pot - she's seen smoking it & mentions it a couple times in glory. Halley tries cigarettes. There is drinking and a drunk character. That is about it! Not recommended for youngsters, the themes are too heavy. 14++ seems fair.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Educator Written byKeyKitty November 21, 2011

Good film/Relatable for teens

I remember watching this movie as a teen and I loved it. It was a nice mix of the books Someone Like You and That Summer by Sarah Dessen. Sure most parents think it isn't appropriate because of the sexual context and alcohol/drug use however if you look into the lives of teens, this is something they come across and face. Not all will but a good portion will feel certain pressures and feel that this movie shows that. For those who haven't seen it here is a film rundown: It is about a girl named Halley whose best friend Scarlett is pregnant. Her friends boyfriend dies and leaves her a soon to be single mom. Halley herself goes through changes, finding love and losing love, having a changing relationship with her mother (Allison Janney's character) and seeing the changes in her friend as she moves through her pregnancy. She has different pressures that affect her life including the relationship with her new boyfriend Macon. She does at the end, realize she has been the same girl all along and is just filling in the colours of her life.
What other families should know
Great messages
Too much sex
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking