This shallow, too stale upscale-set coming-of-age picture can't ride on the coattails of rising stars like Freddie Highmore and Emma Roberts.
The Art of Getting By, also starring Blair Underwood, Rita Wilson, Michael Anagarano, and Sam Robards, seems like a hybrid of this archetypal low-budgeter, but not as zesty as it should have been given the opportunity to work off of teenage ennui.
A compulsive sketcher who loves viewing Louis Malle on celluloid, Highmore's rebellious, fatalistic senior private Big Apple student George Zinavoy is idling through an important time in his teenage years, mentioning fear and misanthropy indiscriminately. The genteel, if aloof young man doesn't believe in carrying out the curriculum assigned to him as he's been put on probation by Principal Martinson (Underwood). Much importance is put into the value of a secondary-school education which George sees no point in spending any time on outside of class.
Issues exist at home with anxiety-ridden mom (Wilson) and a private, distant stepfather (Robards). George develops a crush on a kindred, similarly free-spirit in Roberts's Sally Howe who can't disguise her troubled life very much. She has a slutty mom (Elizabeth Reaser).
In the screenplay by director Gavin Wiesen which really is overdone given it's brief running time, George's darker perspective will change. Yet, it seems more manipulated than natural as the "younger" folks act like adults. The bludgeoning friendship with a not so shaded Sally has possibility, but what seems like a younger version of Art School Confidential or a cousin to another recent film with Roberts, It's Kind of a Funny Story.
To spice up things a bit there's a "mentor" of an artist, Dustin (Michael Anagarano), for George to try an inspire him a bit. Later, there is a revelation at home which leads to perhaps the film's most honest, heartfelt scene led by Wilson. Yet, the intended drama with some cute moments, dialogue and key relationship is too vacuous, never cleverly coalescing as an interesting path to self-discovery.
Like some of his more recent projects, Highmore just isn't given enough to fashion the kind of character he has done so well just from his visage, and even the usually appealing Roberts can't stretch the quality of the material. Even with a snazzy em-o-rock soundtrack which stands out in a production most attentive to these kind of lost young adults, The Art loosely tries to get by without homework (see Juno and Easy A), but is more distracting and vanilla on its way to graduation.