The Art of Getting By: A Belated Review

I’ve had this film on my TBR pile for quite a while now and I’ve only gotten around to seeing it last night when I was browsing through the titles. Originally, I wanted to see this indie because it featured two child actors — Emma Roberts (Unfabulous) and Freddie Highmore (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Spiderwick) all grown up in this coming of age story which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last year.

George (Highmore) is a talented artist, a loner, a teflon slacker as he calls himself, and a misantrophe (someone who has a general distrust of other humans, thank you wikipedia). He is also a high school kid trying to get through his life without having a care for what happens to his future, because in the end “everybody dies alone.” Sally (Roberts) has her own issues. She and her mom were abandoned by her dad at an early age and her mom has started dating with a vengeance. On a chance encounter on the school’s rooftop, George sort of saves Sally from possible detention, Sally befriends him and they start a complicated “sort of” relationship that overwhelms the inexperienced George, who is at the same time struggling with his family problems, his art and his schoolwork. Enter Dustin (Michael Angarano), a former student in his high school/ relatively successful artist who becomes his rival for Sally’s heart, all the while becoming his inadvertent mentor.

There are high points and low points to this movie. Among the high points, I think is Highmore’s portrayal of a teenager who does not care about anything in his life. It’s kind of sad to see him walking around with no friends and being all negative about everything at his young age but at the same time refreshing for audiences to see a teenager who lacks the need to seek people’s approval. He cares not a whit about it. I also liked his relationship with his teachers and how they all kept nudging him in the right direction — their general faith in his potential. While I loved all of his teachers, I nurture a soft spot for his art teacher (Jarlath Conroy) and his English teacher played by Alicia Silverstone. It was also kinda cool how his principal was equal parts firm and friendly with George — sort of like a big brother or a cool uncle rather than an imposing school official.The evolution of George, as a central character through this piece is gradual, and audiences will likely appreciate the symbolism of his “layers” and his shedding of them towards the end. Highmore made George an endearing character that audiences will understand, despite some of his poor choices, which is quite typical for teens.

Low point: I did not feel like Emma Roberts was the right person the role of Sally because I didn’t feel the chemistry between the two. I didn’t like her character very much because she kept giving George mixed signals, all the while knowing that he has no experience with relationships. I felt that a relatively unknown indie actress could have given more dimension to the character. Sorry Emma.

Another low would have to be the ending. I felt like the movie should have gone the life story route (since Emma already provided the opening) rather than the love story which made the story small when the issues tackled throughout the story was quite deep.

Other than that, I felt that the screenplay and the direction were spot on. Kudos to Gavin Wiesen who took charge of both. Audiences will also get a treat seeing Steven Spielberg’s daughter Sasha Spielberg take on the small part of Zoe, Sally’s friend who always offered to match George with some of her slutty friends.

All in all, I think the movie had the potential to be one of those great indies that blow your mind with questions at the end of the movie, but it sort of hesitated to go the extra mile, pulled back and settled into becoming an average coming of age story. It was a good movie but it could have been better.  Still, its worth a watch.