As George Zinavoy, Highmore is a lonely and fatalistic NYC teen who’s (somehow) managed to make it all the way to his senior year without ever having done a real day of work. He finally befriends another being on the school rooftop called Sally (Emma Roberts), a popular but complicated girl who recognises in him a kindred spirit.
This highly sensitive and (over) emotionally complex take on ‘kidulthood’ uncertainties mixes darker moments with tender ones, and reveals Highmore’s blossoming talent into manhood and adult roles. The unfortunate thing for both actor and Wiesen is this side of the adolescent movie market has been well and truly staked by the likes of Michael Cera, Anton Yelchin and Jesse Eisenberg, and is full to bursting with their troubled personas on screen. That’s not to say Highmore cannot join their acclaimed ranks as he performs his best with what he has to play with here, but the inexperienced and rather pretentious and predictable script from Wiesen doesn’t help matters.
Giving us musical prompts, such as cranking up the tinkling ‘upbeat’ soundtrack to signify George’s decision to join the real world, is not a satisfactory explanation as to why this over-analytical teen, who almost could be deemed as having a case of Asperger’s syndrome, has decided to join the rank and file of everyday ‘normality’. If it’s just to get the girl (Sally) – turning this into a romantic offering, it seems the intellectual George is selling himself short for no apparent reason. Yes, love makes you do the craziest of things, and through Sally, George finally gets his entry into carefree adolescent existence. But if we are to believe that his character is more than your average teen, the transformation is executed in an incoherent manner, undermining what’s special about ‘Teflon slacker’ George and his outlook.
Communication is the key – if you are talking the same language. Even though Roberts as Sally sees her kindred spirit in George, being someone locked into performing as she is expected to in life, it still feels a little farfetched that this hip chick would have oddball George round to party on Manhattan’s rooftops with her ultra cool friends, let alone grow to fancy him. Again, ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ and spotting his artistic talent might be cause enough to get Sally hooked – and she does make it back from the airport departure gate in record time to see his final art piece, like something from an episode of Friends. Admittedly, Roberts plays the part of ‘awkward teen in a vixen’s body’ rather well to rival Highmore’s rather unsettling appearance, but hardly gives a defining performance in her career to date. It’s as though Wiesen has restrained some of Sally’s true character traits and feelings in this to focus on the turbulent universe that centres on George, which is a shame for both character arcs.
Wiesen almost attempts to boldly address teen depression at the start of The Art Of Getting By, which could have been a more intriguing premise. He then changes tempo to a film focused on young puppy love and making the right life choices that it feels so uneven at times without a stronger, passionate vein of, say, unfrequented longing, that it goes to confuse both characters and audience in the process, all disguised in quirky, prattle-heavy tension. The good thing is Highmore and Roberts will not necessarily be affected by their turns in this, even though the latter has had her acting wings clipped by her seemingly undeveloped role here, pointing to more exciting talent from them to come.