Former child stars Freddie Highmore (Finding Neverland, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory) and Emma Roberts (Nancy Drew) are high school seniors falling into a complicated friendship in The Art of Getting By, a teen romance more grown up than most recent Hollywood rom-coms for adults.
At times, The Art of Getting By is grown up in that bad Gossip Girl way, where teenagers seem a bit too worldly. But, for the most part, the kids here feel more real than usual, something that can be credited in part to the leads: Highmore's gifted, iconoclastic underachiever — who skips school regularly, avoids homework, and reads Camus alone in the cafeteria — shows plenty of doubt and awkwardness. In the words of songwriter Eef Barzelay, he's not as weird as he'd like us to think. Roberts' variation on the "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" is more grounded than most. Roberts has been so good in similar roles here and in last year's It's Kind of a Funny Story that you wish she'd get a chance to be the lead rather than just the protagonist's object of infatuation.
This first feature from writer-director Gavin Wiesen debuted earlier this year at Sundance under the title Homework. With its Hollywood-connected cast (Julia Roberts' niece, Tom Hanks' wife, Steven Spielberg's daughter), glossy look, and formulaic structure, it was widely panned as an example of what has gone wrong with Sundance and perhaps with some justification. But outside of that context, amid a rom-com landscape where the likes of Something Borrowed and Just Go With It are the norm, it's a cut above average. Teenagers looking for some semblance of themselves on the screen could do much worse at the multiplex on a Friday night.
Opening Friday, June 17th, at Ridgeway Four and Malco Cordova