Featured Critic; St. Louis, MO
Like a low-end self-serious New York intellectual John Hughes movie, or a less competent recession-era "Say Anything, "The Art of Getting By" strives to get by as some sort of socially relevant teen movie for today's nihilistic wandering youth. It's perfectly reasonable, perhaps even admirable for filmmakers to want to speak to the cultural mindset of our times and it's audience; to tap the pulse of today's world, or whatever. But when that particular creative springboard proves too fatalistic to sustain its chosen sub-genre, the seams begin to show quickly. In this case, the intention appears to be to explore the understandably dark outlook that today's youth senses about where the world is headed, and how that affects their individual motivations. I get that. But perceived good intentions are just about all that "The Art of Getting By" has going for it. The film can't help but fall into line. It turns out that no teen movie is complete without teen romance, the inevitable and obvious notion that Love Conquers All smacks everything else in the face.

Freddie Highmore, the one-time kid star of several Johnny Depp films including "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", plays George, an artsy black-trench-coat-wearing high school senior so wrapped up in his own doom-and-gloom view of the world that he's simply not motivated to do anything. No homework, no job, no dating, nothing. He draws really well, though. Besides that, he wanders around, not smoking the cigarettes he carries. He's a smart kid, and all his frustrated school authority figures (including Blair Underwood, Alicia Silverstone, and Ann Dowd) seem to know this, and are, for whatever reason, eager to help him. But it's not they who eventually provide his motivation out of permanent slackerdom. No, that would be The Girl of this picture (Emma Roberts).

Even as we're subjected to George's pretentious inner monologues as he drifts through patchwork sequences of aimless b-roll footage (George walks in an alley, cross-dissolve to George walking by a fence somewhere, etc.), it wasn't until middle the film when I found it all just too unbearable. By that point, everyone but the leads know that The Girl, Sally, is clearly The One, and we're all trapped on the screenwriter's treadmill, killing time until the page ninety "fade out", preceding the final resolution. George eventually crawls completely up his own backside, and narrative constipation is all that remains. Boy loses girl, and boy must get girl back again, but first, he also must resolve having been a self-imposed academic slacker in a resolution worthy of a "Seventh Heaven" episode. And yes, he must also deal with his mom's marriage failing, and the ripped-from-the-headlines loss of their home - but that kind of current events referencing is simply pandering at this point.

Despite the authentic New York locations and the wealth of name talent in the cast, "The Art of Getting By" can't transcend its low budget roots. The visual direction is uninspired and flat, and the writing is faux-clever pandering. There are occasional moments of success, but you know, it doesn't add up. Freddie Highmore, once the go-to kid actor of Hollywood (thanks, Johnny Depp!), can't quite nail what this part is asking of him. I suspect that "The Art of Getting By" may've been concocted with the purest of artistic intentions, but was then maybe run through the mill so many times that it ended up as flavorless pulp. Whatever happened, this is what we're left with. If the smart teen audience that "The Art of Getting By" is baiting bites at the box office, they will no doubt come away all the more nihilistic, adding the sorry state of teen movies to their long list of things that suck.

- Jim Tudor

The Art of Getting By

  • Gavin Wiesen
  • Gavin Wiesen
  • Freddie Highmore
  • Emma Roberts
  • Sasha Spielberg
  • Marcus Carl Franklin
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Gavin WiesenFreddie HighmoreEmma RobertsSasha SpielbergMarcus Carl FranklinDramaRomance

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