I have accepted that in Hollywood there are very few original ideas. Sometimes it seems to me that they are just making the same few films over and over with the belief that no one notices. Well, some of us do and are tired of it.
Going into first time director Gavin Wiesen’s film The Art of Getting By I thought it was going to be another of those run-of-the-mills pictures about a young male loner/outcast who has his outlook on life changed by a dynamic young woman. I was wrong. Yes, that is basically what the story is about, but due to the great acting by the two young leads, solid performances by the adult supporting cast and some well written dialogue it rises above the dog tired premise.
George (Freddie Highmore – Finding Neverland, August Rush) is an outcast. Not that that seems to bother him any. He, in a very philosophical way, has decided that the purpose of life is death, so the idea of doing any homework seems ridiculous. So he has gone through almost his entire senior year at Morgan Academy Prep School in New York without doing a bit of homework. George does not even pretend to listen in class, where he spends his time doodling in his books. He is actually quite a talented artist even though he does not take it seriously as he tells his art teacher (Jarlath Conroy – Day of the Dead, Kinsey) that he has not found anything important enough to paint.
His mother (Rita Wilson – Sleepless in Seattle, Runaway Bride) is worried, but has her own problems. His principal (Blair Underwood – Gattaca, Deep Impact) threatens to expel him. Everyone is worried except our hero, the self-described Teflon slacker, George.
Until that fateful day on the roof of his school when he saves Sally (Emma Roberts – Scream 4, Hotel for Dogs) from getting in trouble for smoking on school property, George is just “getting by” in life. Getting to know Sally changes all that for him. She is accepting of the way he is and does not treat him like a freak like others do. Sally pushes him to be more social and invites him out with her to clubs and parties with cool kids, Zoe (Sasha Spielberg – The Terminal, The Kids Are Alright) and Will (Marcus Carl Franklin – I’m Not There, Be Kind Rewind). He even meets a former Morgan School student who is now working as an artist and assumes Dustin (Michael Angarano – Almost Famous, Sky High) as his mentor.
Things are going well for George. He has found someone to connect with and that he has feelings for. Those feelings end up being a problem because Sally does not see him that way and says that she does not have many friends so wants to keep George just as a friend. George is even further crushed when he discovers that Sally is seeing Dustin. His whole world comes tumbling down. To make things worse he is told by Principal Martinson that he will not be graduating unless he does his entire year of school work in just over three weeks. Things look bleak.
If you are between the ages of 16 and 23 you probably can better relate to the feelings in the film, but those outside of that small age bracket might be turned off by the whole self-important feeling around the film. George is a slacker but is portrayed as a genius. We are to believe that he is the only teen who has felt that homework is annoying, parents are embarrassing and that life is rather pointless. That is far from the truth. These and several other teenage film clichés are thrown in for good measure. There is nothing subtle going on in this film.
It sounds like I did not enjoy the film, but I did. This is primarily because of the two young lead actors, who have taken what could have been boring and one-dimensional characters and breathed some life and nuances into them.
Lead Freddie Highmore has grown up quite a bit since I last saw him. He seems to have totally perfected an American accent (he’s British) and can have tears in his eyes at the drop of a hat. He and the film are cute and sweet. Throughout his career he has shown the amazing ability to seem wise beyond his years and emotionally in tune with what the film demands. George is a character who starts off slowly. At many points early in the film I wanted to cuff him one in the head, but it gets better as Highmore pulls him into someone we end up caring about. Emma Roberts keeps her character believable though she is living an unbelievable life. Despite the fact that she seems to have it all Sally is not a happy girl and Roberts conveys that wonderfully.