The Art of Getting By (formerly Homework) is a slight little indie romance, sweet but generic, and almost not worth mention were it not for the solid cast, which includes Emma Roberts and Freddie Highmore. Highmore, who many may remember as the child actor in Finding Neverland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, is now a teenager, and in The Art of Getting By, he’s suddenly the next coming of Michael Cera.
All we need is another awkward teenager.
But this one’s different. Kind of. In The Art of Getting By, he plays George, a high-school senior going through an existential crisis. We’re all going to die, so what’s the point, he reckons when he’s not smoking. It doesn’t make for a particularly good excuse for getting out of homework, so despite his obvious intellectualism (he reads used paperbacks!), he’s facing expulsion. Not that he really cares, at least until he meets the sweet-faced upper East-Sider, Sally (Roberts), who likes but does not like like George.
But that’s OK, too. Because George doesn’t know if he likes her, either. At least until he does. When George finally realizes it, he crushes hard. When he also stumbles upon a slightly older artist mentor (Michael Angarano), and learns how to appreciate modern art, George finally finds something he might want to do with his life, if only he had something to say (*sigh*). Complications arise when Sally develops reciprocated feelings with the artist-mentor and George sets himself up for heartbreak.
It’s all very wistful, and the music is suitably emo, but there’s little dramatic thrust in The Art of Getting By. The characters simply float around, occasionally converging for a Louis Malle film, a post-film mope, and a few halting exchanges. The entire film feels like the residual leftovers of (500) Days of Summer and a summer nap: Lazy, inoffensive, but watchable. Like Freddie Highmore’s character, in The Art of Getting Byfreshman writer/director Gavin Weisen struggles to find inspiration, and when it finally arrives, it’s too late to really care.
The Art of Getting By originally screened at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. It’s being released in select cities tomorrow.