For almost as long as there have been rich kids, there have been former rich kids determined to make you feel sorry for them, to make you believe that they too suffered same the slings and arrows of adolescence as the rest of us. It’s a genre mastered by JD Salinger in “Catcher in the Rye,” with “The Art of Getting By ,” from writer-director Gavin Weisen, being just the latest entry.
Freddie Highmore stars as George, your classic underachieving loner more focused on his sketches than his schoolwork, doing just enough to move from one grade to the next. But with his senior year in full swing, he becomes further distracted by his newfound friendship with Sally, the pretty, socially connected, even more privileged blond, played by Emma Roberts. Not surprisingly, Freddie falls hard for Sally, and lacks the courage or social skills to pull the trigger.
What makes “Art” so frustrating is that Freddie’s not very likable, fun, funny, entertaining, charming… Worse yet, he’s a relentlessly fatalistic moper, convinced there’s no reason to try to anything ‘cuz we’re all gonna die. Well if Freddie doesn’t care, why should we?
Things don’t start to get interesting until George meets Dustin, played by Michael Angarano, an alum from his high school who now lives in a Brooklyn loft where he works on his art, inspiring in George the belief that maybe he, too, could be an artist.
“How can you call yourself a painter if you don’t paint?” Dustin asks George—he may as well ask how he can call himself a person if he doesn’t live.
Angarano gives the best performance of the film, his Dustin the right blend of older-than-you arrogance, insecurity and tortured “I should know better” misery. He’s the only character drawn to feel and process the world at a rate that allows him to emote.
Highmore’s Freddie is emotionally constipated, a state he captures well, but makes for a long film, as his surface is only rarely broken by a shy or confused smile. Highmore already proven he can act, but he’s never really given a chance to here.
Roberts’ gets a little more to work with, as her Sally fights to pull a response out of George, and her pursuit is just obvious enough. That said, this is the second summer in a row she’s playing a girl who falls for a damaged boy who is neglecting his artistic talent whom she meets in an institutional building. Maybe mix it up a bit, stretch your chops, Emma.
“The Art of Getting By” is a too aptly-titled film that does little more than its name implies, offering little new or interesting to the story of a poor little rich boy.
“The Art of Getting By” goes into limited release Firday, June 17.