The kind of indie movie that makes you hate indie movies, writer-director Gavin Weisen’s too-cool-for-cool Sundance smash rightfully belongs on a Fox Searchlight shelf with similarly “quirky” high-profile acquisitions such as Juno, (500) Days Of Summer and It’s Kind Of A Funny Story. There’s a trendy indie-rock soundtrack, studio-level production values and an overqualified cast. Also there’s nothing going on here, besides teen-pandering and an over-privileged young filmmaker mining his prep school diaries for a story that is relatable to nobody.
Insufferable Freddie Highmore (all grown up since Finding Neverland and Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, yet strangely reluctant to shed his child-actor cutesy crutches so he bobs his head and smirks a lot) stars as George, a tousle-locked teenage hipster prone to reading Camus’ The Stranger in the cafeteria and wearing a long black trenchcoat. George has decided that since we’re all going to die someday, there’s no point in doing homework ever again. (“The universe is expanding,” a young Alvy Singer once sighed, to much greater comic effect.)
What’s noxious about The Art Of Getting By is that it takes young, insufferable George’s existential plight dreadfully seriously. Highmore lives in a Manhattan brownstone, hangs out in bars (despite being 17 years old) and generally has life by the short-hairs. The school’s elusive, unattainable beauty (Emma Roberts) is supposed to seem dangerous because she smokes cigarettes, yet she takes him out for Valentine’s Day dinner and practically begs him to have sex with her.
Every character—from George’s frustrated Mom (Rita Wilson, slowly morphing into a dead ringer for Catherine O’Hara) to his principal (Blair Underwood) and long-suffering English teacher (Alicia Silverstone—good gawd, where did the years go?) do nothing but tell George what a remarkable and fascinating lad he really is. But honestly, having spent an hour and a half with him I can tell you the kid’s got nothing to offer.
The Art Of Getting By is a pathetic game of narcissistic roleplay, in which a not particularly talented young auteur re-imagines his own fan-fiction version of high school, because he’s got connections to get a few semi-famous people plus Steven Spielberg’s weird-looking daughter to play all the bit parts.
Just because it happened to you doesn’t make it interesting.