By Steve Persall
Times Film Critic
The legal drinking age in New York is 21. Keep that in mind during The Art of Getting By whenever a Manhattan bartender, waiter or wayward mom serves booze to prep school seniors, and these kids socially drink a lot.
The shots at an unsupervised graduation party I can understand. Maybe even the public consumption, if anyone pulled out a fake ID for a server to check. Writer-director Gavin Wiesen isn't concerned with such details, which would only interfere with his pandering to moviegoers sharing his characters' undue sense of youthful entitlement. Ferris Bueller would tell these phonies to get a grip.
The Art of Getting By feels like a movie written with older characters, then tweaked with Jesse Eisenberg or his knockoff Michael Cera in mind. Wiesen settles for Freddie Highmore, still looking ready to visit Willy Wonka's candy factory despite the cigarettes and slacker-chic overcoat.
Highmore plays George, a bright kid and proudly lousy student, with parents and a principal — whom he calls by first names — constantly offering breaks and encouragement, and receiving only grief in return. Why not? George figures we're all going to die anyway. Nothing matters, and what if it did? Since George's slacker ennui is scripted without humor or irony, I assume Wiesen intends him to be easily disliked.
George's disturbing doodles in his textbooks catch the attention of Sally (Emma Roberts), who's way out of his league in all regards, but this is a movie.
Sally considers George a platonic skip buddy. He's in love. Sally has no trouble crushing George's soul by taking up with an older artist (Michael Angarano) who's supposed to be his friend. Then Sally wants George, then she doesn't, then she might. This goes on for 84 minutes that feel much longer.
Now adults never come off well in rebellious-youth flicks, but Wiesen piles it on. George's mother (Rita Wilson) is an ineffective doormat to a husband (Sam Robards) in professional crisis. Sally's father is long gone, leaving Mom (Elizabeth Reaser) to sleep around and drink too much wine in between. She doesn't mind sharing when the kids visit.
Teachers have the gall to urge students to work harder. The principal (Blair Underwood) comes off as nice but only because he pulls strings to help George graduate after he did nothing for the entire school year. Someone should make a movie about the school's next PTA meeting. The Art of Getting By is enough to drive a movie critic to drink. The next round's on the kid in the overcoat.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365.