THE ART OF GETTING BY, 2011
Stars: Freddie Highmore, Emma Roberts, Michael Angarano, Marcus Carl Franklin, Sasha Spielberg, Blair Underwood, Rita Wilson
George, a lonely and fatalistic teen who's made it all the way to his senior year without ever having done a real day of work, is befriended by Sally, a popular but complicated girl who recognizes in him a kindred spirit.
Gavin Wiesen’s first feature film, “The Art of Getting By”, is an impressive coming-of-age comedy that would have made John Hughes proud.
Nearly all of the late filmmaker’s favorite elements are in place here: introverted teenage angst, awkward familial relationships, pursuit of unlikely love, and the motivating threat of expulsion from school.
Freddie Highmore, that precocious child from “Finding Neverland”, has grown old enough to play lonesome and fatalistic George Zinavoy, a high-school senior lacking direction but not artistic talent. Though it is hard to sympathize with George, due to the fact that he smart mouths those who try to help him, we can at least respect his non-conformist lifestyle decisions.
Since he clashes with other members of his high-school community, he has chosen the path of the existentialist and spends his lunch period brooding over literary novels in quiet seclusion. Instead of focusing on schoolwork, he idles away class time doodling in textbook margins and ignoring his homework assignments.
The teenage audience member probably sees George as the anti-establishment answer to societal expectations of onward progress. In other words, he’s a tween version of Ferris Bueller without the happiness or popularity. We, the older members of the audience, see him as the most frustrating student in the classroom: the kid who can learn, but refuses to do so.
It seems logical that his art teacher, Harris (Jariath Conroy), is enraged at George’s laziness and therefore channels so much energy towards any sign of hopeful enlightenment. Yet, it seems far-fetched that anyone else in the school, including Principal Martinson (Blair Underwood), gives a damn about his future, considering his long-term insubordination. It is a wonder he even made it to the twelfth grade.
But George has more important events happening at this stage in his life. His mother Vivian (Rita Wilson) is maybe a bit too compassionate with his slacker behavior, while his stepfather Jack (Sam Robards) is privately suffering from the decay of the American economy. There is tension within the household, and George is completely excluded from their affairs.
But those are minor distractions compared to his suddenly new friendship with Sally Howe (Emma Roberts), a fellow senior who is as complicated as she is popular.
Whereas George lacks progressive initiative, Emma lacks emotional stability when it comes to dating. She considers herself a rock of sexual strength, but flaunts this power repeatedly as she teases George with hypotheticals and uncertain promises of eventual intercourse. In this way, we can see that she is not an antagonist to his stinted intellectual development. She is merely just as confused about love as George is about his own future.
“The Art of Getting By” succeeds in depicting a love story that is both believable and engaging. Our appreciation of their relationship survives in its unflinching sincerity and realistic portrayal. At no moment does their mutual attraction feel forced or contrived.
The best parts of the movie remind us that the development of ambition goes hand in hand with discovering love. You can only discover what you want to do with your life when you know who you want to do it with or what you want to do it for.
Ultimately, this is a picture that concerns the realistic pain and ecstasy regarding teenage love. But this dynamic is damaged by the fact that nobody outside of the school remotely treats them as adolescents. Every time they are out dining together in public, the waiter serves them either a beer or a glass of wine. George’s artistic mentor, Dustin (Michael Angarano), even fancies Sally as a potential girlfriend, as if her age and status as a high-school student was irrelevant to the twenty-five-year old artist.
The film’s most blatant disappointment is an inconclusive subplot involving George’s underdeveloped stepfather. Instead of embracing any irony regarding their two parallel and chaotic lives, Jack is denied redemptive self-discovery when he is expelled from the story unforgivably in a plot twist that defies sympathy or compassion. It seems strange that the film spends so much time stressing the importance of second chances, only to deny them for George’s struggling stepfather.
But, despite these flaws, this is an enjoyable indie that will inspire people to pick up their paintbrushes and make the first move on any upcoming dates. And it makes one realize that life is about achievement and personal fulfillment, instead of just “getting by”.
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