IN THE AFTERMATH of the unfortunate success of the High School Musical franchise, The Art of Getting By is notable for being a movie about teenagers that wasn't produced by Disney—it's a welcome return to a time-honored teen movie template in which high schoolers drink, smoke cigarettes, have sex, and make bad decisions that will have emotional repercussions for years to come. It's exactly what most of us want out of a coming-of-age movie, in other words. If you're a teenager, it'll validate your experiences; if you're an adult, it'll make you faintly nostalgic for your high school years while simultaneously reminding you why you'd never, ever want to go back.
George (Freddie Highmore) is an oddball of a New York City teenager, a shy, smart kid who never does his homework. The homework thing is shorthand for his unwillingness to fully engage with life's more difficult aspects—but difficulty engages him when popular, pretty Sally (Emma Roberts) takes an interest. While she insists their relationship is purely platonic, he develops a raging crush that batters against her increasingly cavalier treatment of his fragile nerd-boy emotions.
There's nothing particularly original about Getting By: Crushes, insecurity, and the pains of being unpopular are all standard coming-of-age tropes, and YA fans will find numerous echoes of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky's novel about a boy who's too stuck in his own head to make a move on the girl he likes.
But Getting By's familiar themes are artfully handled—writer/director Gavin Wiesen gives his characters more emotional credit than filmmakers often accord high schoolers, and the writing is observant and understated enough that the result is fresher and more enjoyable than its boilerplate storyline would suggest.