Right on the heels of Submarine and Ceremony, Gavin Wiesen’s The Art of Getting By is the latest film about how very hard it is to be an adorably whiny, hyperliterate teenage boy — only without any of Submarine’s winning humanity.
At a rich prep school on the Upper West Side, George, played by Freddie Highmore, is a self-styled misanthrope and frustrated virgin who trudges around in an oversize overcoat, reading Camus and pondering the meaninglessness of his existence. When Sally (Emma Roberts), a lovely, stable senior who seems to be perfect in every way, shows up, you think, Naturally she will be his portal into a happier, more optimistic life. But wait, can this film really be so obvious?
Yes it can. As per the rules of these sorts of romantic comedies, loyal Sally finds George’s snide, dismissive antipathy appealing, though it’s merely insufferable. If it were clear how this pose related to his troubles at home, some real pain or depression, George might be tolerable. But Highmore, the child star of Finding Neverland, plays the character as if in a narcotized haze, convinced life is a stupid game he’s too smart to play. He’s James Franco, Oscar host.
In the end, George’s art teacher challenges him to “find something you’ve never had the courage to say before” — to deliver one gutsy piece of art. You can probably guess whom he paints: George’s masterpiece turns out to be as daring as a Valentine cut from a doily — as spineless and cutesy as this film.