English actor Freddie Highmore from “Finding Neverland” (2004) and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (2005) here plays George, a Manhattan teen on the verge of expulsion from Morgan Preparatory School. He draws all over his textbooks, reads unassigned Albert Camus and lays in bed listening to Leonard Cohen when feeling low. Writer-director- New Yorker Gavin Wiesen lends knowing, unshowy touches to his debut feature. This coming-of-ager dodges a dozen or so clichés in relating George’s dealings with his teachers, principal and step-dad. Classmate Sally (Emma Roberts) is his new pal and potentially more. Complicating things is a Brooklyn painter and recent Morgan alum who becomes George’s mentor and Sally’s lover. (Part of this setup recalls Martin Scorsese’s 1989 short “Life Lessons,” from “New York Stories.”) Highmore holds every scene by underplaying his irresistible vulnerability. Clearest sign this teen-centered film is not really made with teens in mind, or at least not the ones usually targeted at multiplexes: the way Wiesen handles a twelfth-grader’s virginity. With Rita Wilson, Blair Underwood, Michael Angarano, Sasha Spielberg, Marcus Carl Franklin, Sam Robards, Maya Ri Sanchez, Ann Dowd. 84m. (Bill Stamets)
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.