“The Art of Getting By” is the kind of movie that only exists in the magical world of indie make-believe, where high school kids have little to no adult supervision and order drinks in bars without getting carded. It’s also a movie slightly out of time, the quirky love story complete with a hipster folk-riddled soundtrack that was in vogue three or four years ago. It has its good points, namely a unique protagonist and two likable actors at its core, but the story takes the easy way out far too often for the sake of striking a cool pose.
George Zinavoy (Freddie Highmore) is the most polite rebel without a cause that you will ever meet. Developing a fatalistic streak during his senior year at a New York private school, he stops doing his homework on the grounds that he fails to see its purpose, and none of the parental figures in his life, from his principal (Blair Underwood) to his mother (Rita Wilson), can get through to him. He meets cute with Sally (Emma Roberts) over cigarettes on the school’s rooftop, and the two begin to spend time together. George finally succumbs to having feelings for another person, but he must also answer to the piles of schoolwork he has forsaken. His mother and stepfather, meanwhile, have issues of their own.
George and Sally are brought together by cigarettes, yet they are not seen smoking for the rest of the movie. Huge amounts of time go by where the movie’s teen characters are off the grid, or spending the night at other people’s houses, and not once are the parents upset or concerned. Sally’s closest friend Zoe (played, perhaps fittingly, by Steven Spielberg’s daughter Sasha) lives in an apartment by herself, while her parents live in another part of the city. The most curious thing about the abundance of parental neglect the movie contains is that it isn’t a plot point or a device – it’s just there. The kids are actually good kids; they’re just on their own most of the time, and their parents’ sole purpose in the story is to shake up the lives of their children when it’s most inconvenient. The movie’s contempt for authority figures, even the good ones, is misguided, to say the least.
One wonders how this movie would have been without Highmore as the lead. He might be a misanthrope, but he’s the nicest damn teenaged misanthrope you’ve ever seen, and Highmore wisely resists the urge to play up the snark factor that typically embodies these types of characters. Roberts is another matter, however. She does well with what she’s given, and you can see why George likes her, but she doesn’t deserve him. No one else in the movie really matters. They’re all just pieces that are moved down stage or up stage whenever it’s convenient. And did we really need the scene at the airport with the plane about to depart? It smacks of a reshoot, one that the movie didn’t need.
There are pieces of “The Art of Getting By” that are interesting or entertaining – a line here, a poignant moment there – but the whole is far less than the sum of its parts thanks to the lopsided romance at its center. The alternate version of Manhattan in which it’s based seems awfully nice, though.(2.5 / 5)
This originally ran June 17, 2011 on Bullz-Eye.com.