This teen romcom first debuted at Sundance and that in itself should give you a pretty good idea of how it’s going to go. Just as you’d expect writer/director Gavin Weisen's feature debut The Art of Getting By is the story of two slightly offbeat teens who discover themselves through a few slightly offbeat experiences and the entire story is just adorably well…offbeat. It’s certainly a sweet and endearing film but it’s not likely to leave a lasting impression on audiences.
We follow George (Freddie Highmore) a senior at a New York City high school who’s managed to glide through his formative years without lifting a pencil on an assignment. He’s your typical secret genius who can’t be bothered to write a 5-7 page paper on romanticism and instead spends all his time doodling wild artistic drawings by his lonesome. Just as the principal (played by the always friendly and reassuring Blair Underwood) pulls the rug out from under George’s little charade demanding he shape up the adept slacker meets Sally (Emma Roberts) another senior whom he covers for when she’s found smoking on the roof. Of course from there a friendship with that typical undercurrent of potential romance begins. This leads the pair down the rabbit hole of activities plucked from the choicest Gossip Girl storylines most of which probably involve Penn Badgely. Add to this a romantic and artistic rival (Michael Angarano) for George family troubles at home and a potential expulsion and you’ve got yourself a story.
Now it’s not that the film has any major black marks on its record but it fails to deliver something beyond what we’d expect. You can almost predict exactly what each character is going to say as they say it. From our protagonists to even minor characters like George’s mother (played by producer Rita Wilson) the dialogue could be ripped from any variety of teen flicks. At one point a supporting character even says the words “Anything is possible.”
While I have to take the film down a few grades for those offenses I will say that Highmore delivers a delightful mature performance and lends the film a bit of that gravity that was so striking when he was but a babe in Finding Neverland. Roberts stays the course giving us a taste of her usual schtick as Sally does her best to bring George into the world of teenage debauchery and underage drinking.
Ultimately The Art of Getting By works as a simple charming romantic comedy with the ability to speak to teens in their angstiest of years; just don’t expect them to sit around someday waxing philosophical about how the film inspired that artistic phase in their 20s.