Hey look! That adorable kid from Finding Neverland grew up. He's being a teenager now. Oh, he's being an angsty teenager, well let's see how that goes. Man-angst isn't great to watch from the outside.
There's a mountain of great material to be gathered from teen angst and quite a few films have tapped it successfully - Donnie Darko, Battle Royale, Red Dawn, even the Twilight series if you want to measure in terms of box office grosses rather than quality. Getting the audience to appreciate the experience of teen angst can be tricky though, which is why those films make use of rather outlandish settings; time travel loophole, murder island, Russian occupied Colorado and sparkly vampire town. The Art of Getting By doesn't use any of these, it just shows a teen being angsty in New York.
George (Highmore) is a nihilist who doesn't believe in homework. Then he meets Sally (Roberts) and he starts to feel something of worth. It's a pretty standard tale. Highmore is fairly effective as the awkward George and Roberts' Sally is devastatingly attractive in the way that all your teen crushes were, but she does have her issues too. Sally refers to her absentee father a little bit too much, but it's not so off-putting that we can't see what George sees in her.
The story is pretty much standard issue 'crap teens go through' but we never get a way into George's head. Rather than experiencing what George experiences and getting nostalgic for our own teenage years (or relating to your own issues if you're still a teen) we are left to simply observe George.
Rather than reliving the angst and bittersweet memories of teenage love, you just want to whack George on the back of the head and tell him to do his homework.