Half way into this film I was enthralled; by its conclusion I was annoyed and glum. This is a film that -- through the protagonist played at once oddly creepy and attractive by Freddie Highmore -- asks all the right questions but fails to follow the logic of those questions.
George is a high school senior at a fancy pants prep school in NYC who has been led by the following bit of pop existentialist philosophy -- "you are born alone, die alone and everything else is an illusion"* -- to despair of doing anything meaningful. Despite the despair inherent in the slogan, George is quite chipper and expends vast amounts of energy doing what he wants and avoiding doing what The Man would have him do: study hard, takes tests, and prepare to go to a fancy pants college.
Surely there must be more to life?
Indeed, George's intuition that there is more to life is profoundly correct, but he takes the ever-popular romantic shortcut into enlightenment: falling in love. Don't get me wrong: love, beauty -- these and many more can be a path toward the truth about oneself. But in this film I was reminded of the glib "sex as salvation" tonic fobbed off on moviegoers in Titanic. George's relationship with Sally Howe (Emma Roberts) seems like too pat an answer to George's questions. It left me feeling like the film was suggesting that the way to get the girls is to play the moody existentialist. (That may well be true, by the way.)
Perhaps the film should have been entitled Go Along to Get Along, for if the heart can be satisfied by loves that do not exceed what immediately confronts us, then George will be a happy camper by being successful according to someone else's criteria.
*Orson Welles may be the source of this quotation; I didn't pursue it very far online.