'Homework'

Facile, formulaic and utterly charm-free.

Facile, formulaic and utterly charm-free, “Homework” runs 84 minutes with nary a sincere emotional moment. Helmer Gavin Wiesen’s screenplay doesn’t add much to the disaffected-youth genre apart from a soulless gloss, and young Freddie Highmore, as the disaffected but artistically gifted George Zinavoy, is trapped in his own mannerisms, consistently reminding the viewer that he’s supposed to be playing someone special, yet never closing the argument. Sundance pickup by Fox Searchlight will ensure wide exposure, but word of mouth could stop pic in its tracks.

Set in upper Upper Manhattan, among a privileged society where high school students can drink hassle-free in bars, spend their evenings in nightclubs and morbidly obsess over mortality, “Homework” is an outsider story with an anemic rebel at its center. Yes, George defies all instruction at home and school, but his motivations are unclear, his passion all but absent. While sneaking a smoke one day (on his exclusive school’s roof deck), he meets the precocious Sally Howe (Emma Roberts), who sets him on an all-new course while setting his heart and hormones aflutter.

Sally lives with her promiscuous mother, Charlotte (Elizabeth Reaser), while George lives with his cloying mother, Vivian (Rita Wilson), and oppressive stepfather, Jack (Sam Robards). All in all, however, the problems of two little people — these two, anyway — don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, and “Homework” suggests a portrait of the artist as a young whiner. The relative insignificance of the problems facing these tortured characters isn’t offensive, exactly, but it’s terribly hard to care about people who lobby so insistently about their pain in a film that makes every effort to be so safe, slick and easily digestible.

Highmore is in a transitional phase between kid parts (“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “August Rush”) and adult roles, but, as often happens with child actors, naturalness has been replaced with mannerism. As George, he telegraphs every mood and emotion, and Roberts is equally fussy and shallow. The one solid performance comes from Michael Angarano as an artist who, as George’s mentor, seems dangerously interested in Sally. Angarano’s solid perf renders the character far more sympathetic than he probably should be.

Production values are tops, especially Ben Kutchins’ shooting.

Homework

Production

A Fox Searchlight release and presentation of a Gigi Films and Goldcrest Pictures presentation in association with Mint Pictures, Atlantic Pictures, and Island Bound Prods. Produced by P. Jennifer Dana, Kara Baker, Gia Walsh, Darren Goldberg. Executive producers, Andrew Levitas, David Sweeney, Henry Pincus, Patrick Baker, Nick Quested, Gretchen McGowan, Jonathan Gray, Anthony Gudass. Directed, written by Gavin Wiesen.

Crew

Camera (color), Ben Kutchins; editor, Mollie Goldstein; music, Alec Puro; music supervisor, Linda Cohen; production designer, Kelly McGehee; costume designer, Erika Munro; set decorator, Matthew W. Herschel; sound, Mike Guarino; re-recording mixer, Lewis Goldstein; special effects editor, Rusty Dunn; associate producers, Matthew Vose Campbell, Chris Marsh; casting, Laura Rosenthal. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 23, 2011. Running time: 84 MIN.

With

George Zinavoy - Freddie Highmore
Sally Howe - Emma Roberts
Dustin - Michael Angarano
Vivian Sargent - Rita Wilson
Principal Martinson - Blair Underwood
Ms. Herman - Alicia Silverstone
Charlotte Howe - Elizabeth Reaser
Jack - Sam Robards

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