The Art of Getting By

3 Jul

Title: The Art of Getting By
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Gavin Wiesen
Writer: Gavin Wiesen
Starring: 
Freddie Highmore, Emma Roberts, Michael Angarano, Elizabeth Reaser, Sam Robards, Rita Wilson, Blair Underwood
MPAA Rating: 
PG-13, thematic elements including sexual content, language, teen drinking and partying
Runtime: 
83 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
6.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 
19%

I would like to make some sort of bad pun saying that The Art of Getting By had an extremely hard time doing just that for me, but I actually though that this little film, by-the-book as it may be, was quite okay, and got by just fine. It stars Freddie Highmore as George, this kid who’s apparently given up on school life, not really paying attention to homework or anything anymore, because he’s figured out he’s going to eventually die so what’s the use for that. Now, this is not because this is a tortured and depressed senior in high school that we’re talking about, but we’ll get to George and his theory of life later on, for now let’s go back to the fact that he’s played by Freddie Highmore. The guy is 19 years old, but you know him from Charlie and Chocolate Factory from when he was 13, or August Rush from when he was 15, so you’ll have that moment or two in which you can’t get past the fact that this is that kid, sort of like when you saw Haley Joel Osment in Secondhand Lions, but the fact that he’s now more grown up hasn’t taken away from the fact that this is a guy that just seems super nice and kind and likable and relatable, which is the reason why I will ultimately give this film a grade worthy of a recommendation, because Mr. Highmore sold this character to me, and thus the movie.

Not to mention that Gavin Wiesen, who makes his feature length debut both writing and directing this one, made the best out of the story, because even though this is still a very typical approach to this sort of material, he made some very smart choices by not making George have those backstories of depression or addiction or something sad to be the way he is and behave the way he does, he just makes George believe the things he does because he believes them, and by not assigning him a typical problem he easily avoids falling into some clichés these sort of teen movies many times get tangled with. But once the romance part gets going, with Emma Roberts’ character, Sally, there are some clichés that he just can’t sidestep. She’s the popular girl in school who he in preservation mode believes is too good for him but who actually likes him.

It’s not that Mr. Wiesen does horribly predictable stuff with the plot involving these two, but by making George so detracted, so self-defeated in his own mind, he gets us frustrated at him, by not making a move, by assuming defeat and embracing unhappiness and misery so with such free will. And that’s the stuff I didn’t like in The Art of Getting By, that it created so much tension out of this character not willing to create much of anything else. Then there’s the character of Dustin which is this older guy played by Michael Angarano who really likes both George and Sally and who you’ll sense some vibes from him towards Sally but I won’t mess up what happens next, it’s just that even though I liked the Dustin character, I felt there were some issues with just how the story between him and Sally was ultimately handled.

By the way, on the subject of little Ms. Roberts, the niece of the insuperable Julia Roberts, I’m really starting to like her now. At first I actually just couldn’t for the life of me see why people loved her so much, I really didn’t care for her at all in Aquamarine and Nancy Drew, two of her first big-screen ventures, but recently she’s really starting to grow on me, she was pretty damn good in last year’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story (which I gave a B+ to) and was pretty decent in this year’s Scream 4 (which I gave a B to), so yeah, now I’m starting to see why people were so high on her, she really did the trick for me here. And she’s already signed on to star in next year’s Celeste and Jesse Forever, which will star and was co-written by Rashida Jones, so it seems like she picks good projects, too.

So yes, even though there were a lot of things that didn’t make The Art of Getting By work as properly as it could have, there were also a lot of things working in its favor making it not suck as big as it could have, either. And chief amongst those things were the performances given by its two young leads, Mr. Highmore and Ms. Roberts, and I’m giving the movie a grade that means I can recommend it based solely on those two, because the film, short and easy to watch as it may be, works just because they gave fine performances, and did wonders making their characters and the film feel super unassuming and not self-conscious at all, which is what any teen-aimed film like this should strive to achieve. And even though the film is utterly predictable, there is still a nice quality to it, a promise of deeper and sadder things that it never really manages to deliver on, but the subtle hints of it are there, and there are some real stand-out scenes between Mr. Highmore and Ms. Roberts that are tremendously textured and you just know these two will go on to do greater things in the future.

Grade: B-

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