When a film covers familiar ground, as this coming-of-age story does, it had better offer an original point of view or, at the very least, interesting characters. The Art of Getting By has both, and while it loses its footing now and then, its leading actors help us to connect with it on an emotional level.
Freddie Highmore is a highly watchable young actor and, with a flawless American accent, manages to make a somewhat inscrutable character interesting. He recounts, in the film’s first scenes, his morbid thoughts about the futility of life, which is supposed to explain his inability to—
—produce any work at school. Everyone knows he’s smart and talented, but he simply can’t (or won’t) accomplish anything, even in art class. Emma Roberts is well cast as a fellow student at their tony Manhattan private school who befriends him and tries to coax him out of his shell.
Good casting helps smooth some of the bumps and unfortunate detours in writer-director Gavin Wiesen’s debut feature. Rita Wilson plays Highmore’s indulgent mother, Sam Robards his aloof stepfather, Blair Underwood his stern principal, who refuses to give up on him, Michael Angarano a recent graduate of Highmore’s school who’s making his way in the world as an artist, and Elizabeth Reaser is Roberts’ free-spirited mother, who is an embarrassment to her daughter.
There are moments in The Art of Getting By that made me wince, especially toward the end; they betray the filmmaker’s lack of experience. But I found myself rooting for his two key characters, and enjoying Highmore and Roberts’ performances. That’s enough to make this little indie film worthwhile, warts and all.