High school students in New York City try to, like, find themselves or whatever as they face the rest of their lives in The Art of Getting By, a movie I dearly wanted to ground — no phone, no Facebook, no TV, no iPod.
You stay in your room and you think about what you’ve done, movie. And no indie rock to preciously soundtrack your angst, some of us have to go to work in the morning.
George Zinavoy (Freddie Highmore) is a senior at a good high school in New York but he refuses to do homework or otherwise participate in his education. His sense of his own mortality has made homework seem meaningless, or some bull that his teachers roll their eyes at and send him to the principal for. Principal Martinson (Blair Underwood) sees potential in George and worries that George is in the process of destroying his life. And when the generally loner George makes friends with Sally (Emma Roberts), another artistically inclined senior, he worries. Sally and her friends can float by but you can’t, Martinson tells George.
Not that George is listening. Sally is pretty and talks to him. She also kind of toys with him, true, but apparently George isn’t super choosy and is just happy a girl and her friends (who praise him for his artistic abilities) are hanging out with him. He even takes Sally to meet Dustin (Michael Angarano), an artist in Brooklyn who seems like exactly what George wants to be.
This movie is so mannered, so labored, so fundamentally false and “movie-ish” in its dialogue and performances that it feels like a parody of a beginners’ acting workshop. No, worse. Like some kind of team-building exercise performed by disgruntled employees on a corporate retreat. At 6 a.m. Possibly at gunpoint.
I suppose there is something moderately likeable in George, a kind of directionless poseur who doesn’t have the guts to just be the mopey artist he clearly wants to be and so shrugs off life with an indifference that seems totally false as performed by Highmore. But still, he isn’t horrible. You can maybe, kinda squint and see an actual confused kid in there, particularly in some of the scenes with his mom (played by Rita Wilson). We don’t wish his death. Unlike say Sally, whose death would have greatly improved the movie. She is a deeply unlikable character. She is a meaner, more cruelly (but nonsensically) manipulative variation on the Manic Pixie Dream Girl character (a category of whimsical, often slappable female character as first identified by Nathan Rich of The A.V. Club). At one point, acknowledging her feelings for George, she says they both need to go off and live life before they can get together. As though “living life” isn’t going to make her seem any less charming — I acknowledge your love for me and I shoo it to the curb like an unwanted kitten, tee-hee, don’t you want me even more now?
With the central relationship of this movie almost unwatchably irritating, all that’s really left are the cameos — what’s Blair Underwood been up to all these years? Hey, look, it’s Alicia Silverstone (playing a teacher; gaah, was Clueless really that long ago?). Is the “Sasha Spielberg” mentioned in the credits a Steven Spielberg Spielberg? (Yes, according to Internet Movie Database; one of his daughters.) These moments of actor-spotting offer the movie’s sole real entertainment — and no, not nearly enough to make it worthwhile. D
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements including sexual content, language, teen drinking and partying. Written and directed by Gavin Wiesen, The Art of Getting By is an hour and 24 minutes long and distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures.