Freddie Highmore was one the best child stars working the mid-2000s. The Art Of Getting By marks his transition to teen movies but he’s in danger of falling by the wayside if he continues to star in such bland and uninspiring fare.
He plays George, a bright but fatalistic teenager growing up in New York who is on the verge of being expelled by his principal (Blair Underwood) for truancy and not completing his assignments. Wallowing in self-absorbed existential misery, he doesn’t seem to realise that his mother (Rita Wilson) and step-father (Sam Robards) are going through some tough times too but things start to look up when he strikes up an unlikely friendship with his classmate Sally (Emma Roberts).
With the end of the school year fast approaching, George is issued with an ultimatum – complete a year’s worth of homework in three weeks or he won’t graduate. Meanwhile George meets Dustin (Michael Angarano ), a college graduate and professional artist who becomes his mentor of sorts and urges him to pursue a relationship with Sally before it’s too late.
The plot is frustratingly predictable and ploddingly dull as a result and lacks the sparkle or charm that you’d expect from such a film. George seems to have very conflicting motivations. At first he resigns himself to expulsion because he believes the work is pointless. Quite why he decides to knuckle down when his mum and step-father’s relationship starts to crumble is unclear – surely at that point he’d be at his lowest?
There’s also a crushingly awful scene where George’s unorthodox art teacher tells him he has to paint one picture of a subject that’s really inspired him – no prizes for guessing what unimaginative dross George eventually turns out and is summarily clapped on the back for like he’s the next Monet.
This eventually builds to a climax where George has to attend his own graduation ceremony to find out if he’s succeeded in graduating – a rather mean-spirited conclusion that seems out of character from a principal who up till then had been nothing but kind and understanding. Presumably this was added as an attempt to inject some suspense into a screenplay as insipid as dishwater soup.
The acting is fine – Highmore’s acting talent has in no way diminished with age. But because George’s problems are all of his own making, it’s hard to care if he graduates much less if he gets it together with Sally.
Sally meanwhile has no discernable character. He’s interested in her but why should we be? She doesn’t have any passions or opinions, radical or otherwise; she’s a pretty face for George to torture himself with.
In fact George is so frustratingly passive and inert that he eliminates even the glimmer of intrigue that was present in the opening credits; he amounts to an over-privileged kid slouching around his neighbourhood in a duffle coat reading a well-thumbed copy of The Stranger and little else.
There’s no intrigue here, no drama, no characters and consequently no movie.