out of Five
Running time: 83
Watchable indie-by-numbers, enlivened by likeable performances from Emma Roberts and Michael Angarano, though it's ultimately let down by an all too predictable script and a frustratingly passive lead character.
What's it all about?
Written and directed by Gavin Wiesen, The Art of Getting By stars Freddie Highmore (graduating from child star to teenage roles, just like Macaulay Culkin before him) as George, a talented but disaffected Manhattan prep school teenager who's in trouble with his principal (Blair Underwood) for refusing to do his homework. He's also too self-obsessed to realise that his mother (Rita Wilson) and step-father (Sam Robards) might be having problems of their own, but things start to look up when he strikes up a friendship with rebellious (in that, ooh, she SMOKES) classmate Sally (Emma Roberts).
Eventually, the principal decides that enough is enough and tells George that he has to complete a year's worth of homework or he won't graduate. At the same time, George's burgeoning will-they-won't-they relationship with Sally comes under pressure when they meet art mentor Dustin (Michael Angarano), who takes a fancy to Sally while also urging George to make his move with her.
Freddie Highmore is fine as George, but his character is frustratingly passive throughout the film, plus all his problems are of his own making, so it's hard to care too much about if he gets together with Sally, let alone whether he graduates or not. This isn't helped by the fact that Emma Roberts has much more chemistry with Michael Angarano than she does with Highmore; in fact, Highmore has a great scene with Roberts' overly flirty mother (Elizabeth Reaser) but the film veers sharply away from that particular plot direction.
That said, Roberts is on good sparky form throughout and Angarano brings a surprising and unconventional level of likeability to what would normally be a straightforward love rival-slash-sleazy bad guy role. In addition, there's strong support from Wilson and Robards, though Reaser, Underwood and Alicia Silverstone (as George's English teacher) are all under used.
The main problem is that the script is thuddingly predictable from beginning to end and the film lacks the charm and quirkiness of similar entries in the indie teen genre (even the otherwise disappointing It's Kind of a Funny Story – which also starred Emma Roberts - had a stand-out musical/fantasy sequence). It does have the requisite decent soundtrack though.
Ironically, The Art of Getting By has indeed mastered the art of getting by, since this is never less than watchable, though its predictable script means that it ultimately lacks emotional or dramatic impact.
The Art of Getting By (12A)