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The Art of Getting By rates a D+

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There are the lucky ones, those performers who manage to transition smoothly from child actor to adult star without hitting a rough patch during the teen years (e.g. Jodie Foster, Elizabeth Taylor). Then there are those who find their careers derailed for whatever reason — take, for instance, the promising '50s actor Bobby Driscoll (Treasure Island, the voice of Disney's Peter Pan), whose sudden onslaught of severe acne once he hit puberty all but killed his rapid ascension (turning to drugs, he later died a homeless man at the age of 31). Or Macaulay Culkin, whose Home Alone superstardom eventually evaporated thanks to a series of flops as well as the interference of his avaricious prick of a pop.

Presently, it's Freddie Highmore who stands at the crossroads of career considerations. An appealing small fry in such films as Finding Neverland (when he was 12) and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (13), Highmore now turns up in his first significant role in years at the age of 19, playing the leading character in The Art of Getting By. To quote Fred Willard in A Mighty Wind, "Hey, wha' happened?"

Of course, it would be cruel and unfair to call for a career moratorium based on one performance, but the thing that surprised me the most about this picture is that Highmore has morphed from a promising child actor into a generic, boring teen. Then again, that might simply be because he's surrounded by a generic, boring movie and has elected to camouflage himself, Rango-like, by blending into his surroundings. The Art of Getting By, written and directed by Gavin Wiesen in his feature-film debut, shares much in common with last year's stillborn It's Kind of a Funny Story, right down to a co-starring role for the singularly untalented Emma Roberts (hard to believe she's Julia's niece) and a plotline that focuses on a self-centered twit whose problems don't amount to a hill of beans in Casablanca, Cleveland, or this film's NYC setting.

Highmore's George Zinavoy refuses to do any homework and frequently skips school, all because he realizes that one day he'll die and why waste time on meaningless activities? (For the record, this general idea was brilliantly presented in just one scene in Woody Allen's Annie Hall.) Naturally, George's teachers (including a now 30-something Alicia Silverstone) and principal (Blair Underwood) frown on this attitude, but George is committed to remaining aloof and uninterested in everything — at least until he gets to know his classmate Sally (Roberts) and starts to secretly hope that their friendship will turn into something more meaningful.

The domestic sequences involving George's mom (Rita Wilson) and stepdad (Sam Robards) are even more dull than the school-set ones, though it's the many scenes focusing exclusively on the young couple that feel especially trite and shopworn. And with Highmore and Roberts both so colorless in their respective roles, it comes down to a classic case of the bland leading the bland.

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