Though its plot is thin and familiar, there is something winning about Gavin Wiesen's The Art of Getting By.
Not that it's a good movie -- rather, it just hit me right. Maybe it's the likability of Freddie Highmore, who plays a slacker who is genuinely soulful without being a smart-ass. Or perhaps it's Emma Roberts, as one of those teen queens who isn't really that enamored of her exalted status.
Whatever the reason -- this slight coming-of-age tale works better than it has any right to, thanks to the performances by the young actors and several of the supporting cast. Wiesen's script may feel like a retread but the cast injects it with a different kind of life.
Highmore, who has sprouted into a gangly, likable teen (after playing kids in films such as Finding Neverland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), plays George, a senior at a Manhattan prep school who has little interest in school. He politely tells his teachers that, no, he didn't do his assignment because it seemed irrelevant to him, in the larger scheme of things. Luckily for him, he's befriended the school's insightful principal (Blair Underwood), who offers wary advice and numerous second chances, couched in threats of suspension and expulsion.
One day, while skipping class to hang out on the school's roof, he spots Sally (Roberts), a classmate with whom he's never spoken. George takes the rap when a teacher catches them smoking -- and Sally makes a serious effort to befriend him, though he puts her off. Before long, they're hanging out because Sally, as popular as she is, apparently is temporarily without a boyfriend.
Not that George knows what to do with her in that regard. He maintains his distance, which attracts her more -- until he finally comes close to admitting that, in fact, he's fallen for her. By which time, of course, it's too late -- or seems to be.
The subplots here have marginally to do with their differently but similarly screwed-up parents. George's mother (Rita Wilson) is on her second marriage, to a man (Sam Robards) who can't admit that he's lost his business. Sally lives with a mother (Elizabeth Reaser) who apparently was barely Sally's age when she became a mother -- and who is happily back on the dating scene in her early 30s.
The touchstones of late high school are all there: the socially immature boy who feigns more sophistication than he has, the old-before-her-time girl who is drawn to his innocence, the older artist who befriends first George (who is drawn to his worldly authenticity), then Sally (who finds his self-deprecating charm appealing). It helps that the artist is played by Michael Angarano, another appealing young actor who needs better roles.
You can throw a rock and hit a dozen similar films (from (500) Days of Summer to Take Me Home Tonight). Yet the blend of melancholy, whimsy and emotional honesty in the performances by its young stars make The Art of Getting By more tolerable and affecting than it deserves to be.
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