Take every awful indie coming-of-age movie cliché, cram it into one film, fill it with terrible dialogue and bored-looking actors and you are starting to approach the disaster that is Gavin Wisen’s Homework. If someone were making a parody of the modern art-house coming-of-age film, this would be it. Despite a relatively-short 84 minute runtime, Homework is an interminable slog as we’re forced to suffer yet another movie about a privileged teenage who’s life is so perfect that he’s forced to conjure his own misfortune.
George (Freddie Highmore) is a slacker that has come upon a wacky reason not to do his homework: fatalism. Since he’s going to die anyway, his trigonometry assignments don’t seem that important. Why is he so depressed? Does he come from a broken homelife? Not really. He lives in a nice brownstone in New York City, but his stepfather is kind of a jerk. Does he have some dark secret in his past? Who knows. He was birthed into this world arty and misunderstood. He was also blessed with eye-rollingly bad dialogue such as:
“I’m afraid of life.”
“I’m a misanthrope, but not by choice.”
“I’m allergic to hormones.”
“I’m in love with you. I always have been.”
Highmore doesn’t have a prayer of convincingly spouting lines like these, and he deserves credit for not wincing while he said them.
While George is busy doodling and being uninteresting, he begins a friendship with Sally (Emma Roberts), but starts to fall for her because she’s pretty and…she’s pretty. I would call her character paper-thin but that’s insult to the thickness of paper and the fine people who make it. George also begins a relationship with Dustin, a professional artist (Michael Angarano). Their “relationship” consists of two scenes where Dustin gives George advice.
Homework could exist as a scathing parody of the indie coming-of-age film, but instead it serves as a laundry list of the worst qualities the genre has to offer. It takes over an hour for the film to find a real conflict for George, and by that point we’re too far gone to care. Wisen gives his debut feature no voice, no personality, and no reason to exist.
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Freddie Highmore, the British actor who made a name for himself as the adorable Peter in Finding Neverland, is all grown-up now, and his latest film proves that he hasn't lost any of the raw talent that brought us to tears when he was just a boy. Homework, a teen dramedy of sorts, has already been acquired from Sundance by Fox Searchlight, so here's more on the film that will eventually be coming to a theater near you.
- Who's behind it? In addition to Freddie Highmore and Emma Roberts, director Gavin Wiesen had plenty of stars to fill his supporting cast, including Rita Wilson, Alicia Silverstone, Blair Underwood, Elizabeth Reaser, and Michael Angarano.
- What's it about? Highmore plays George, a teenage loner in New York City who refuses to do his homework assignments despite his obviously sharp mind. Consumed with the idea that all people are going to die eventually anyway, George can't find a reason to commit himself to schoolwork and instead chooses to spend class time nurturing his budding artistic skills. When he meets Sally (Emma Roberts), George finds his first true friend, and his world changes as he begins to experience emotions that he never knew he had — but his graduation from high school hangs in jeopardy.
To see why the film shines, just
- What did I think? I wasn't expecting much more than a typical teen movie, but the film delivers a surprising amount of depth. Don't get me wrong: the cliches are aplenty, from George's overbearing stepfather to the "cool" principal at school, but Highmore brings enough complexity to his role to make George more than just a precocious slacker. Though George's feelings are universal (and not just to high school students): he's grappling with the questions of how to find meaning in life and whom to share it with. George's "homework" is much more than just term papers and problem sets; he's trying to figure out what kind of person he wants to be. The beauty is that Highmore's performance makes the audience realize George's potential long before he does.
The supporting players, though for the most part one-dimensional, add layers to George's story without introducing a slew of subplots. His relationship with Sally is the heart of the film, but George's interactions with everyone around him (his parents, his teachers, etc.) shed more light on what makes George tick. Teen films often try to veer off in too many directions or follow too many characters, but Wiesen is wise to keep the story focused on Highmore — and Highmore carries the weight with ease, proving that he's on the brink of transforming from child star to leading man.