A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
George, the hero of "The Art of Getting By," is a high school senior who has decided to stop doing homework and paying any attention to tests. He isn't tortured, depressed, addicted or anything like that. It has occurred to him that he will die, and therefore what use is homework? This is more sophisticated than my theory, which was that homework would kill me.
George is played by Freddie Highmore, who only yesterday was the kid in "August Rush." He could make a durable leading man because he looks good, and by that I don't mean handsome, I mean kind and likable. He's nice even when he explains to his parents and teachers that he doesn't see the point in graduating from school. He's the spiritual kin of Melville's Bartleby the scrivener, who patiently informed people, "I would prefer not to."
By not assigning a fixable reason for George's behavior, the movie sidesteps some of the cliches of the teen problem picture. Not all of them. There's always romance. George, for example, is attracted to Sally (Emma Roberts), a classmate who he assumes is somehow beyond his reach. In this he isn't being defeatist but, he thinks, simply realistic. If he were a little more perceptive, he'd realize Sally likes him a whole lot. His life seems stuck on pause.
His passivity is both interesting and frustrating, because George possesses the answers to all of his problems and freely chooses to be unhappy. As a result, most of the tension generated by the movie is in ourselves and not in the plot. We want George to succeed, we want him together with Sally, and we even like Dustin (Michael Angarano), an older artist who likes Sally and likes George, too. Dustin is so nice, he would step aside from Sally if he thought George was ever going to make a move. Not likely in romance, but there you have it.