I almost considered passing up watching this one, but I'm glad I didn't. This movie has all the hallmarks of a bad afterschool special, actually four or five of them smashed together. But just when you think it's about to fall off a cliff of cliches, something unexpectedly intelligent happens. Just when it's about to turn into a tear-jerker, the director puts her camera, almost joyfully, above the rain to show everyone shielding themselves with the church program. Just when you think it's going to turn into a soppy love story, the characters flee from each other, scared out of their minds at the possibility. Just when you think it's going to be a soap opera, Mandy Moore acts her way out of the paper bag that people seem to pigeon-hole her into. You get the idea.
The actors all do well, especially Allison Janney, who puts a real edge to a role that could have easily been mush. I must admit, though, Peter Gallagher, usually a reliable guy, doesn't do much with his aging hipster role. The real joy here is Moore. She's got just enough stuff to hook you into the story, and she's just raw enough that she'll make you believe. And, yeah, the dialogue is corny here and there, but not outrageously so. I have to hand it to the director to keep everyone loose enough to pull off some of these lines, and to make the shots interesting enough for us to care what happens when they do.
The plot, which does have its convolutions and weird devices, is not nearly as interesting as Halley's growth as a character. It's basically a character piece wrapped in a teen romance. And Moore brings it all together.
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