The Art of Getting By
Directed by: Gavin Wiesen Cast: Freddie Highmore, Emma Roberts, Michael Angarano Running Time: 1 hr 24 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: June 17, 2011
PLOT: A young man (Highmore) starts an unlikely relationship with a classmate (Roberts) and a successful artist (Angarano).
WHO'S IT FOR? Teenagers in similar mental states to Highmore and Roberts’ characters will have the best chance of not finding this entire story nauseating with its fabrications. Viewers should not go into this expecting a feel good comedy. Anyone actually trying to “get by" will likely be insulted.
EXPECTATIONS: I didn’t know anything about this movie beforehand. The title seemed to indicate something about relationships; for some reason I was thinking maybe it’d be like a teen dating comedy, but I tried not to set myself up for anything solid. I did like Emma Roberts in Scream 4, and I was curious to see what a grown-up Freddie Highmore would look and sound like.
Freddie Highmore as George Zinavoy: It's hard to think of a character this year that's more aggravating than George. Even the entourage of pooping penguins from Mr. Popper's Penguins are made to seem bearable by the flaming and positively ruthless narcissism that flows from George every time he opens his mouth. With all of his fatalistic glum statements, we can just see that George thinks he's so clever. A true brat, he refuses to do homework, and instead relies on the unreasonable multiple final chances given to him by his superiors to turn things around. There are glimmers when one feels like George could actually change his selfish ways, as statements like "I'm obnoxious" like to tease. This isn't the case. Even though George considers himself to be so smart, he somehow fails to understand how childish his musings are. If he really were a person who understood Camus and had a sense of maturity, he wouldn't be a spoiled runt, wasting away a prep school education because of some B.S. beliefs. He would know clearly just how stupid he really is. Score: 1
Emma Roberts as Sally Howe: For some reason, she's more than amused by George and his weird-isms, even when he calls her a "hussy" in a strange whispered voice. Her character's existence is pretty flat, as she doesn't have anything going on in this movie except her relationships with the odd George and the lame Dustin. Sally doesn't get much of her own part of the story, she's just a weak component. Score: 3
Michael Angarano as Dustin: With goofy facial hair and an apparent success as a kitchen sink-style artist, Dustin is an unbelievable character, a walking fantasy fitting for the entire facade of this movie. And while Angarano tries to look older with his lack of razor, the actor still looks to be as young as his co-stars, so he looks seventeen. At the very least, Angarano was miscast in this role. Score: 2
TALKING: There's no easier way to foreshadow a movie's potential crappiness than with a voiceover that essentially retread's the joke from Annie Hall that "the universe is expanding." George kicks off The Art of Getting By with some foolishly foul bemoaning about fatalism and the amount of people that die in a certain amount of time. This empty whining continues throughout the movie as George unleashes quotes that if they were to happen in conversation would literally force my hand to slap his face. Please spare your computer a knuckle sandwich as I repeat a few of them: "I fear life," "I'm going through something" and "I'm allergic to hormones." Score: 2
SIGHTS: Though the film uses New York as its playground for rebellious activity, (as discussed below) the city hardly comes alive with the movie’s consistent wide shots that cover characters walking across the screen. A scene in which George and Sally pass one another in slow motion is sappy, despite the film’s belief that it has poignancy (and I later discovered it was on the poster). Although George is an “artist,” we can all be thankful he doesn’t draw any part of the city, or more so, that the movie features a brief animated sequence (those are getting stale). Score: 4
SOUNDS: The Art of Getting By appeals to its audience not with an alternative coolness, like a Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist set of songs, but with a moody hipness. The songs on the The Art of Getting By soundtrack are all pretty glum – perfect for the mellowed audience members who actually feel something for this film. The Shins perform a cover of the Postal Service’s “We Will Become Silhouettes,” and other featured bands include Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Mates of State, Pavement, Earlimart and French Kicks. Nearly turning all of Leonard Cohen’s discography into a cheesy collection, George listens to Cohen’s “Winter Lady” on repeat after a lowpoint with Sally. Barf, gag, get by and move on. Score: 2
BEST SCENE: After listening to "Winter Lady" on repeat, George's stepfather comes in his room. After George tells him "I'm going through something," his stepfather says, "That's pathetic." I laughed out loud in the quiet screening room, and if it were considered professional I would have whooped, hollered and done a back flip to celebrate such a great statement.
ENDING: This might be one of the worst endings we'll see this year, so I will proudly ruin all of it. After being threatened with expulsion, George decides to take up his principal's third or fourth last chance to make sure he graduates. He is assigned by his art teacher to create something meaningful, so he draws a painting of - you guessed it - Sally. After finishing a year's worth of homework, George decides that he will apply to art school, which officially adds a lampshade to the movie's one-person conga line of stupidity. This is of course after his mom tells him they have to sell everything, and that they're basically going to be homeless. Sally's mom ditches her, and the two are left in New York with no place to stay, just their hormones. Good luck with that, suckers.
QUESTIONS: Did the writer/director create this movie because he thought teenagers were putzes? Is it possible that this movie could be considered an emotional scam? What were the filmmakers thinking with the creation of George?
REWATCHABILITY: This movie could probably get a replay or two from the viewers who like the movie. Everyone else will find that one viewing is much more than necessary.
If The Art of Getting By were a concoction by the same suits that dish irrational musical high schools and shiny proms onto naïve teenagers, its existence might make a little more sense. Instead, this is from a first-time writer/director who has turned a coming of age story unintentionally (or intentionally, more likely) into fantasy porn to appease the artsy, narcissist, and hormonal cocktails that easily brew within teenagers.
Accommodating the dreams of any high schoolers who think they solely own the term “outcast,” The Art of Getting By has many instances that are geared to make the mindset of self-centered brats go aflutter, positing its mindset as romantically grown up. Such images include the visitation of an art museum, playing hooky to see a French film in a classic looking New York arthouse, and its most delusional visual, drinking beer at a bar without being carded (this especially stupid since none of the three leads in this movie look older than seventeen).
The irony with The Art of Getting By is that such naiveté about the real world and lack of responsibility makes it incredibly childish. The film may think it is packing a sense of maturity with its above moments, but it's really more simpler than a dumb Matthew McConaughey romantic comedy, and can be just as derivative (the painting reveal, a romantic decision is made at an airport, and it's lack of laughs make it even more gruelling). This is the type of content that movies like The Art of Getting By should stand out against, instead of sneakily complying with the mainstream.
There have been a lot of movies like The Art of Getting By that have tried to explore a rascal's coming of age through an artist's mind (Submarine, It's Kind of a Funny Story), and this is absolutely the worst. For anyone who has even a hint of what "getting by" feels like, this movie is a poorly told joke with no punchline.
FINAL SCORE: 2/10