The Art of Getting By is a noodly, sometimes gloopy emo-pic that feels so much like a Zac Efron vehicle it's a surprise Efron himself isn't in it. Instead, debutant writer-director Gavin Wiesen makes do with our own Freddie Highmore - no longer the little kid of Finding Neverland, in his last role before going up to study at Cambridge - as George Zinavoy, a Bieber-haired high-schooler drifting his way through what remains of his teenage years. Nicknamed "the Teflon Slacker", George ignores his teachers in favour of filling the margins of his textbooks with doodles that speak to some untapped artistic ability; with his mother (Rita Wilson) stressed that his plummeting grades might limit his college options, and his stepfather (Sam Robards) barely there, George chooses to spend his time moping with Emma Roberts, as the best bud he doesn't really know what to do with.
Wiesen spends so long establishing his protagonist's sensitivity - he's ticklish! He listens to Leonard Cohen records! He sees things in Thomas Hardy novels his contemporaries can't! - that there's scarcely time for anything else, although a fair number of contrivances and implausibilities pop their heads up along the way: these are teenagers that somehow manage to drink in swish Manhattan bars without getting carded, and - even less likely - snaffle themselves a table in an upmarket eaterie on Valentine's night. Blair Underwood makes an implausibly cool headteacher, and there's a negligible non-comeback for Alicia Silverstone as one of George's teachers. One edifying montage of schoolwork getting done suggests Wiesen (or, at least, his editor) deserves a second chance with more substantial material; otherwise, you're left wondering why cash-strapped studios would bother to fund a project like this, when it would surely be more cost-efficient to clip together scenes from the two dozen other features it resembles and release that instead.
The Art of Getting By opens nationwide tomorrow.