The Art of Getting By Movie Review
In his senior year at a Manhattan prep school, George (Highmore) can't muster up the energy to do his schoolwork. A bright kid with serious artistic talent, he's in trouble with the principal (Underwood) for failing his classes. He's also uninterested in communicating with his mother (Wilson) or stepdad (Robards). The class' hot bad girl Sally (Roberts) takes an interest in him, but he can't do much more than follow her around, even when his mentor painter (Angarano) urges him to make a move.
Describing the plot pretty much explains why the film is so annoying: George is such a lump that it's difficult to root for him. Highmore plays him with a spark of wit and flashes of intelligent cynicism, but the script continually bashes him back down through a series of rather contrived events and encounters with thinly written characters. Even his caring teachers (Silverstone, Conroy and Dowd) and Sally's sexy mum (Reaser) aren't allowed to bring him out of the dumps.
And the main problem is that the formula is so clear from the beginning that we know where it's heading. So watching George wallow in his navel-gazing gloom really tests our patience. Writer-director Wiesen has said he wants to highlight that key moment around age 18 when life seems to take a deafening pause before adulthood begins, but the over-structured script and warm direction don't have enough personality to bring this to life with any real resonance.
The anecdotal structure lurches from Christmas to Valentine's Day to graduation only because it can't be bothered to find something interesting in a normal day. In fact, the film feels almost painfully anonymous, without any edge of truthfulness. Which is ironic since this is one point made to George about his art. And the only message seems to be that people without ambition are worthless, which is an odd central theme for a movie about someone who doesn't know what he wants to do.