The Good: Moments of character/acting/writing
The Bad: No spark, Painfully predictable plot, Unlikable characters, No superlative performances, Short but feels terribly long.
The Basics: An indie film that is completely lacking in spark, zest and originality, The Art Of Getting By is a surprising flop for all involved.
While my wife is gone for the summer, I am catching up on all the things that she does not (traditionally) enjoy watching with me. So, it’s a lot of art films and television shows that she expressed no interest in. Last night, I got my comeuppance for my strategy; I ran into a lemon that truly justified my wife’s antipathy toward art films. The movie I watched was The Art Of Getting By and it was one that I was actually looking forward to quite a bit. And when it started, I waited for it to go somewhere, I waited for the spark of originality, zest . . . anything that would keep me excited about watching the movie.
That never came.
Unfortunately, The Art Of Getting By is a small, artsy film that presents absolutely nothing new to cinema and, in the worst tradition of pretentious films, is surprisingly short, but feels oppressively long. The Art Of Getting By is in no way surprising, save that it manages to waste the talent of Blair Underwood, minimize Ann Dowd, and presents a character played by Emma Roberts who is virtually impossible to watch. Writer and director Gavin Wiesen made a film that is disturbingly predictable that put talented actors and actresses in some of their most bland, disappointing roles to date. That’s almost a talent.
George is a high school student at a New York City school where he is failing all of his classes because he knows that someday he is going to die anyway, so, he figures, what is the point? Having made it to Senior year alone, he is constantly being sent to the principal’s office for infractions against the school’s rules and when he takes the hit for Sally smoking on the roof of the school, he draws the attention of Sally Howe. Sally thinks George is weird, but she believes he needs a friend and she makes an effort to be that friend, much to George’s delight.
When Principal Martinson conscripts George to act as a guide to an alumni artist, Dustin, brought in to speak to the current class, George and Dustin bond. When George and Sally visit Dustin’s studio, Dustin expresses interest in Sally, but agrees to stay away from her for George’s sake. As George’s home life falls apart and his teachers demand he get all his work in or they will unanimously fail him, George reaches out to Sally, but may articulate his feelings too late for it to matter.
At least, that is what The Art Of Getting By would have you believe. The Art Of Getting By tries to dangle the possibility that George will fail out of high school, not get the girl of his dreams and, through pretty loaded dialogue with Dustin where he admits he has never done so, not paint a picture. Note to indie filmmakers: If you want realistic suspension of disbelief in your audience, stop putting the answers right on the movie posters!
But far more than any sort of problem with the promotion of The Art Of Getting By, the film suffers from its own stifling mediocrity. I agonized for a while watching the film (it is always a bad thing when I am metaconscious, concerned with the review during the viewing, especially when it is a movie I was excited about watching!) about the rating and I was stuck on a 4 for quite some time, but then characters did predictably loathsome things – Sally lied to George at a party, Dustin finds himself charmed by Sally, Sally laughs at George for waking up with morning wood – or act in ways that reflect more of how Hollywood perceives outsider youth than actually creating genuine characters (George does not seem particularly inclined to succumb to peer pressure, yet starts drinking at a party) and I was down to a 3. But then there were moments that I was actually pleased by in the writing and acting, most of which came very near the end. Perhaps the most benign example of this (not a real spoiler!) is when the art teacher hugs George. Moments like that that sensibly defy today’s conventions and they work . . . but the movie took a terribly long time to get around to them.
While George lacks a real spark to be interesting or different from other indie film, nihilistic artist types, The Art Of Getting By could have been saved by Sally. It is not. It is unclear what Wiesen is attempting to say with the film, but the moments of insight he has with George are entirely lacking with Sally. Young people who despise the direction their parents’ lives went in and are both smart and aware of those issues tend not to leap wholeheartedly into making those same mistakes. Yet, in The Art Of Getting By, Sally does just that.
Perhaps Gavin Wiesen wants the viewer to know that everyone will sell out. For a film on the indie film circuit, The Art Of Getting By might well be the ultimate sell-out film. I’m not even talking about the resolution to the film that puts George in a position where he has to decide if he will spend the last three weeks of his high school career doing a year’s worth of work. No, that was completely set-up to be a sell-out. George, though, is disappointingly spineless throughout the movie. While he is established as a character who has absolutely no problem standing up to authority and he is able to be honest with Sally at various points – especially about Dustin – at the key moment when George is most angry at Dustin, he is the least forthright about the professional artist’s work. At the time when it would be most humanly reasonable for George to tell Dustin he thinks that he is a hack, The Art Of Getting By cops out with the safest of lies and it makes no sense from a psychological perspective.
Unfortunately, in addition to having problematic inconsistencies in the characterizations of Sally and George, The Art Of Getting By is surprisingly unimpressive on the acting front. Emma Roberts, who has wowed me in every other work I have seen her in, is understated and her performance feels inorganic. When Sally tells George he is weird, Roberts presents it with a forced, listless quality, as if she knows it is a bad line that does not actually fit the character. Similarly, Freddie Highmore brings nothing extraordinary to the role of George. Instead, he easily establishes George, but for a character who “fears life” (that was a line Highmore really stepped on), Highmore fails to present George in a way that makes him either interesting or makes his transformation feel at all organic.
Now on DVD and Blu-Ray, The Art Of Getting By includes a commentary track with Gavin Wiesen, but because of how disappointed I was with the source material, I could not muster up the enthusiasm to watch the film again just to listen to the commentary track. There are two featurettes and the trailer, none of which improve The Art Of Getting By. The Art Of Getting By is an all-around disappointing film that absolutely failed to impress me on any level.
For other works with Emma Roberts, visit my reviews of:
It’s Kind Of A Funny Story
For other film reviews, be sure to check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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