TAKE TWO: The Art of Getting By

16 Jun

The Art of Getting By

Rated: PG-13

Starring: Freddie Highmore, Emma Roberts, Rita Wilson, Blair Underwood

Director: Gavin Wiesin

Chris’ Take: Maybe I would’ve enjoyed this film more in high school, or if I had just gotten to college, because to anyone outside of that age range, the film will probably seem like drivel.

George (Freddie Highmore) is a high school slacker. He does the minimum to get by in school because he feels like it is insignificant in the broader scope of the world, since everyone is going to die anyway. When Sally (Emma Roberts) , a popular girl, befriends him, he begins to fall in love and it starts to challenge everything he thinks he knows about the world.

I’m going to start off by pointing out the major flaw in the film, the protagonist. I found him incredibly off-putting, especially in the first five minutes of the film. While he wasn’t supposed to be someone that you thought had it all together, he should at least be sympathetic. George thinks he knows everything, much like a lot of high school seniors do, but what bothered me about it is that they played him like he was the only one who dealt with those kind of issues.

People die...and that's like deep and stuff.

His close mindedness to the idea that anyone could possibly be as insightful, or as deep as he is, made it really difficult to sympathize with him. So, when he digs himself into a deep hole, I found it hard to feel bad for him, because he deserved to be there, and I found myself thinking, “Man, it’s about time it caught up with this arrogant little prick.”

Anyway, that is not to say there weren’t some moments in the film of genuine emotional honesty that were touching, but they were very brief and couldn’t add up to much of anything as a whole. Also, when those moments did come, they were more like nostalgic moments of high school love, rather than having anything poignant to say about love itself. The script really felt like it was written by a high school senior, who thought that they had things figured out, when really there was so much more to learn that will come in time.

The cinematography was the best part of the film. There was one scene in a club, where I thought the camera work was nearly perfect, conveying George’s sense of being lost in the crowd while the effect of alcohol sets in. The claustrophobic feeling portrayed with the close in camera really came across. Other scenes were well framed and beautiful, but the sad part is that they were almost always partially obstructed by the protagonist that I was hoping to forget about.

Gavin Wiesen, the writer and director, definitely had ambition with this project, but it fell far short of what he was trying to accomplish because his characters were too young for the film to have any sort of significance, or to not seem like anything but overconfident high school seniors who think that they are the smartest people in the world. An Education, did a much better job developing characters and making them believable and sympathetic with a very similar story.

I’m glad that we got to see this movie for free, because I think I would’ve come away even more upset than I was if I had paid for an evening ticket. The only thing more perplexing than the obnoxious protagonist, was trying to figure out what the heck Alicia Silverstone was doing in this movie.

Rumor has it, they picked her up off the side of the road.

OVERALL: C-

Pac’s Take: We’ve seen this type of protagonist many times throughout film history, especially over the past 30 years or so.  A high school student, typically male, who has a sense of entitlement and arrogance that makes him sort of, well, a prick.  Ferris Bueller, Donnie Darko, Joel Goodsen (Risky Business), Max Fischer (Rushmore), Zack Siler (She’s All That), Charlie Bartlett, they’re just a few among many who have fit this mold.  The fundamental difference between these characters and George Zinavoy, the protagonist of The Art of Getting By, is that despite this behavior they are charismatic and likeable making the viewer sympathize with their plight.  This is the fundamental flaw of this film, you truly do not care what happens to George.  It is disappointing to say because there were glimpses and moments where I felt sorry for him.  The events that he encounters in his relationship with Sally (Emma Roberts) and his home are tragic for a boy his age, and having experienced some of those moments in my own life, I wanted to feel bad for him.  Then he opens up his mouth and I just wanted to punch him instead.  The writer’s attempt to try and make this kid cool because of his high intellect, his devil may care attitude, his meta-cognitive reflection, and his over-sized coat ultimately make him unlikable.

He's preparing for his homeless years after high school

At first I just wanted to believe that I was simply too old for this movie, and that I am not the intended demographic for a film like this.  However, this is also unacceptable to me because we should not promote this type of behavior to the current generation of high school students.

The second biggest issue I had with The Art of Getting By was that it took place in New York.  I love New York, I’m from New York (though I’ve lived in Virginia Beach the majority of my life), but it infuriates me to see these 16-18 year old children frolicking around the city like they are invincible; it further feeds into this entitlement that makes them so unlikeable.  There was a scene in the film (after the scene that Chris referenced above that he liked so much) where George goes out into the street after having one too many drinks, pukes, and passes out on the curb.  What ends up being hours later, Sally finally leaves the club and wakes George up, unscathed.  This would absolutely not happen in New York.  George would be beaten up, robbed of his stupid coat, pissed on, and arrested.  Not to mention one of George’s new friends is emancipated and lives in New York by herself in an uptown loft, and every time Sally is on-screen in a restaurant or bar she’s holding an alcoholic beverage.  Throw in the film’s wardrobe, the soundtrack, and the aspiring artist subplot and I’m left with one conclusion – this movie was trying way too hard to be hip.

Yes, the final touches of his masterpiece include burning it with a cigarette butt.

I agree that there are some things The Art of Getting By accomplished well.  As Chris mentioned the cinematography had its moments, and I think thematically the film had a story to tell, unfortunately it just told it in an obnoxious way.  I thought a lot there were some quality actors in this film whose performances were wasted, especially by the adult cast.  If you’re at all interested in seeing this film, save your money and rent Charlie Bartlett instead, it is a much better version of the same film; even if it does star Kat Dennings.

Overall: D-

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2 Responses to “TAKE TWO: The Art of Getting By”

  1. Marshall July 27, 2011 at 11:52 am #

    I wouldn’t even give Highmore’s character the courtesy of a comparison to Bueller, etc. because quite frankly he was awful. So boring, unsympathetic, flatly written – just horrific all around.

    And I just graduated high school and still hated this movie.

    • Chris Petersen July 27, 2011 at 8:55 pm #

      Yeah I’ve rarely been put off by a “protagonist” as I have by this guy in a long time.

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