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The Art of Getting By

June 18, 2011
The Art of Getting By

As I mentioned yesterday, we’ve got a pair of oversensitive-boy coming-of-age films to pick from. If Submarine is available somewhere near you, by all means see it. On the other hand, if The Art of Getting By is available near you, by all means stay home. Unfortunately, it’s far more likely that the latter is available, as it’s open in almost forty times as many theaters nationwide.

George Zinavoy (Freddie Highmore) is a senior at a Manhattan prep school who’s overwhelmed with the Pointlessness Of It All. He reads Camus and draws over every page in his textbooks rather than making the slightest effort. But of course we know he has Potential because he can make off-the-cuff comments on Thomas Hardy that sound culled directly from the Cliffs Notes. His teachers, including an all-but-unrecognizable Alicia Silverstone, are worried and the principal (Blair Underwood) tries his best to lay down the law. His mother (Rita Wilson) and stepfather (Sam Robards) aren’t very effective at teasing effort out of George either.

But things turn up a bit when George strikes up a friendship with his classmate Sally (Emma Roberts) and meets Dustin (Michael Angarano), an actual working artist, at the school’s career fair. The down side is that Sally’s mother (Elizabeth Reaser) is a romantically flighty alcoholic — though little issue is made of her obvious substance abuse — and for all her protestations Sally has picked up her mother’s manipulative habits. George obviously has a crush on Sally, though far be it from him to actually admit to anything. Still, sooner or longer he’s bound to realize he’s being strung along and everything’s going to fall apart.

George speaks of his “depression” as his excuse for not doing anything, but it’s an odd sort of depression that never really prevents him from doing anything he actually wants to do. More accurately, he’s a lazy, self-important little twerp who insults people who actually are depressed with his mealy-mouthed excuses. This isn’t to say he doesn’t have actual problems, but they’re drastically magnified by his childish refusal to do anything but exactly what he feels like. Highmore does a decent enough job, but the real problem is the atrociously contrived characterization and dialogue writer-director Gavin Wiesen foists upon him.

Roberts also holds her own, but Sally is another caricature that feels like no real high schooler. To be blunt, where George is a transparent projection of Wiesen back into the body of a high schooler, Sally is the object of his wish-fulfillment. They both speak with a fantastic precociousness that sounds like nothing so much as Wiesen’s own voice, transposed into a slightly higher register when play-acting as Sally. And is this young actress really no better than playing one overwrought, angsty boy’s love-interest after another?

Dustin actually seems to be the most honest of Wiesen’s projections, and an admission that he knows just how creepy it is that he’s still as hung up on the high school dramatics that form the core of this kind of story. Where Submarine — and the more directly comparable It’s Kind of a Funny Story — look backwards with mixed emotions, they’ve clearly both moved past these issues and pushed them into the realm of nostalgia. The Art of Getting By is clearly stuck working through some remaining issues; it inspires not sympathy but the desire to throttle George, Wiesen, or both until they snap out of it.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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