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The Art of Getting By - Review

The Art of Getting By

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

FREDDIE Highmore comes of age in disaffected teen drama The Art of Getting By, the film debut of writer-director Gavin Wiesen.

He plays George, a fatalistic New York teenager who refuses to do his homework on the grounds that it’s pointless given the inevitability of death, who likes to hang out alone while harbouring a crush on sassy fellow art student Sally (Emma Roberts) and whose stepfather (Sam Robards) and mother (Rita Wilson) are on the verge of breaking up because of the financial burden they’re facing.

It’s a role that allows him to take the next step in his acting career from the sweet schoolboy of Finding Neverland and Charlie & The Chocolate Factory to smart-assed wannabe rebel, and one that he duly makes his own.

Carrying a convincing New York accent and a sharp mix of confidence and vulnerability, he is the main reason for watching the film, especially as his chemistry with Roberts also convinces, thereby giving audiences something to root for.

But Wiesen’s film occasionally lets him down. In attempting to be slightly non-conformist, and hip in the same way as alternative coming-of-age dramas like Juno successfully pulled off, The Art of Getting By sometimes feels too straight-laced and, well, conventional.

For all of George’s rebellious tendencies, he’s still brought into line by that old cinematic staple – the inspirational teacher (in this case, Blair Underwood’s charismatic head) – and still prone to going through the love lost and won routine of countless Hollywood romances.

It’s a shame as Highmore’s work deserves better, while Roberts too continues to build a career away from the forgettable likes of Wild Child into much more thoughtful territory (a la It’s Kind of A Funny Story).

Wiesen, though, clearly wants to have his cake and eat it; to be indie and commercial, down with the kids and capable of appealing to adults. But his handling of the relationship between George’s mum and dad is also poor and feels contrived, particularly in its rushed resolution. The emotions of both of those characters are callously and superficially explored at best.

This isn’t to say that The Art of Getting By is a complete failure. Far from it… merely average when something a little more was suggested.

And it’s certainly worth checking out for Highmore’s performance, as well as those of Roberts and Underwood. The film works best – and can be quite charming – when staying in their company.

Watch the trailer:

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 83mins
UK Release Date: September 2, 2011