Freddie Highmore stars in The Art of Getting By as George, a lonely senior at a NYC prep school who spends his days drawing in his textbooks instead of completing any of his work. He becomes friends with a fellow student, Sally (Emma Roberts), when he covers up for her when she is about to be caught smoking on school campus. Throughout the school year they their friendship goes through ups and downs as George falls in love with Sally, faces the prospect of not graduating, deals with family issues at home with his mom (Rita Wilson) and stepdad, and struggles to figure out if he can honestly express himself through art.
Highmore has grown up from his Finding Neverland days, but still has those large puppy dog eyes, that can fill with tears so believably. He wears the emotions of this troubled teen very well, which at times makes you as frustrated with him as his mother, principal (Blair Underwood) and teachers, and then sorry for him when he realizes how lost he could be. Michael Angarano, as Dustin, a hip artist who graduated from George’s school, gives a solid performance as he mentors and encourages George to pursue art and life. Elizabeth Reaser, as Sally’s recently divorced, back on the dating scene and loving it, mom Charlotte, appears briefly in the movie, but is much more lively, entertaining and loveable than her daughter.
Roberts is the weak link of the film. She lacked the warmth of her mother, and at times lacked authenticity, but I can’t blame that on Roberts’ performance entirety. The writer of this film must not be from the U.S. and no one bothered to tell him during production that the legal drinking age here is 21, not 18. The first time you see Sally drinking is at home with her zany mother, which could be believable, but as she continues to casually drink with other teenaged friends at a club, a restaurant, and a bar, it really affected the genuineness of the character, the situations and the story because you know none of that would be possible for an 18 year old in New York City.
It’s an entertaining film that is dominated by Highmore’s moving performance as the troubled teen who at times is frustrating to watch as he makes poor choices, but you still root for to succeed beyond just The Art of Getting By.