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The Art of Getting By
When it debuted at Sundance in January, it was called "Homework," which really sounded like a drag, eh? At least the pithy new title should be more appealing to the target teen audience for which it seems it would have the most appeal. Except most of them won't show up for this little film, particularly against monster summer competition. That's okay. This isn't a gem, and it would need to be to have any shot at succeeding.
Let's not blame our indifference on the stars: No one could lift this material very high. Freddie Highmore stars as George, one of those self-absorbed, smart-ass teens who thinks he has a handle on life yet hasn't got a clue. Emma Roberts plays Sally, a beautiful but cagey girl he pines for. Their acting is fine, as far as it goes. A third cog in the wheel, Dustin (Michael Angarano), is a nice guy who cares about both, and gets caught in the middle. The character never really goes anywhere, a problem that plagued the talented Angarano in another recent failed comedy, "Ceremony."
No, let's blame it all on writer-director Gavin Wiesen, making his film debut and not giving us a single reason to root for any of the people he has populated it with. Highmore's George isn't quite a slacker; he just marches to the beat of his own drum—and that includes refusing to do homework or care if he even graduates from high school, letting his insecurities overtake his hormonal longings for Sally, and trying to deal with his mom (Rita Wilson) and her current husband (Sam Robards), who is down on his luck and not coming clean about his dire career straits.
George is difficult but is basically a good kid, and his mother and stepdad seem clueless when it comes to him. Perhaps the lack of parental supervision has colored the cocky way he conducts his life, but—at least with Highmore's acting choices—it has also rendered him helpless as a real emotional being. Yes, he has conquered the art of getting by, but so what? Who cares? That's precisely the problem with this undercooked enterprise. We don't care enough.
Highmore, so impressive if slightly cloying in his earlier work in such films as "Finding Neverland" and "August Rush," doesn't totally click with George, but we can really see his potential as an interesting performer if he could get a script worthy of his talents. Roberts makes a perfect object of affection here but doesn't have much to do, and the storyline with Angarano's Dustin just doesn't go anywhere. Wilson and Robards are fine given what they have to play, and there are near-cameos from Blair Underwood as a school principal trying to set George on the right track and Alicia Silverstone as a teacher.
All in all, "The Art of Getting By" looks like a 90-minute movie trying to do the exact same thing its title implies.
Written and directed by: Gavin Wiesen
Starring: Freddie Highmore, Emma Roberts, Rita Wilson, Michael Angarano, Sam Robards, Blair Underwood, Alicia Silverstone.
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