The Art of Getting By is a pretty good first impression from newcomer director Gavin Wiesen. He’s crafted another one of those independent, kind of formulaic off-beat romantic coming-of-age stories. The package mentions it being from the studio that brought you Juno and (500) Days of Summer, but truth be told it’s more like the recent romantic drama Like Crazy. It’s not as dramatic or depressing, but it’s more focused on the complicated characters and their troubled connections with each other. It substitutes the heavy drama for a more light approach that works as an afternoon rental, but not as a strong theatrical experience.
George Zinavoy (Freddie Highmore) is a troubled art student that keeps to himself. While most young adults ponder their future at college or what party their going to next weekend he’s too busy thinking about life and how meaningless it really is. Why try at anything if it’s just an illusion? He’s depressed and lacking motivation to finish high school and continue his life. His teachers have done practically everything to get him back, but he slowly drifts away from the real world and the problems it carries.
That is until he meets Sally Howe (Emma Roberts). Sally is a popular girl at school that notices George one day and sparks up a conversation. As the two continue to hang out and see each other George begins to form strong feelings for Sally while Sally faces conflicting emotions of either being more than a friend for George or simply using him as the friend to go to when everyone else pisses you off. George continues to fall for Sally despite all of the warning signs his friend throws at him, which leads to heartbreak and him discovering purpose for living life.
The Art of Getting By has no problems establishing these main characters and detailing their troubled struggles, but it seems to be plagued with the same problems Like Crazy faced. Both Sally and George have good and bad character traits that make them worth watching, but certain mistakes both parties make really ask you to suspend your belief. George is generally a very smart person, full of deep thought and honest reasoning, but the way he handles some of the more pivotal scenes in the film makes you question his decisions.
Most of the moves he makes help the story move along while staying true to his characters honest beliefs, but towards the end of the film it starts to feel like his character is put on auto-pilot as the story wraps itself up. George is turned from a misunderstood character that’s dealt with his fair share of shady people to one of those shady people. Once this connection with George is lost the whole thing sort of sits in its own mess. It becomes another tired indie drama that attempts at an honest, non-Hollywood story, but ends up with a cliché Hollywood ending.
Freddie Highmore and Emma Roberts are awesome though. They have amazing on-screen chemistry together and really make the film that much better to watch. Freddie’s acting starts out kind of so-so at the beginning, but when it starts getting thick towards the end he has no problem carrying the film. Emma Roberts doesn’t struggle at all playing the soft spoken popular schoolmate. She’s manipulative when she needs to be and hard to hate often times, despite the low levels her character stoops to.
The rest of the supporting cast is forgettable. Parents, teachers and friends don’t really make much impact in The Art of Getting By. Just the two main stars and the director Gavin Wiesen, who shows his understanding of the popular sub-genre, but doesn’t completely succeed in the unraveling of an amusing story from start to finish. For a first timer he shows much skill both as a writer and director. Dialogue always feels sincere and meaningful and the film is paced at a quick 83 minutes. It’s the structuring that’s a little shaky.
The film starts out feeling too familiar and formulaic, but the more you see how Freddie lives and interacts with others the more it becomes its own entity. When the drama picks up you’ll continue to enjoy the film, but several last minute decisions really discredit the films previous minutes. It ends on a sour note and that feeling will stick with you for some time. It’s a conflicting feeling because as much as you enjoyed watching the film up until that point it almost feels as if it was all wasted on a “safe” ending to make sure the viewer’s left on a happy note.
Still, it’s a strong first try from Gavin Wiesen, thanks to his two leads that make the central relationship believable and honest. A few hiccups along the way make The Art of Getting By an okay film, but not a great one!
Fox provides The Art of Getting By with a very soft 1080p video transfer. The film takes place in New York, so most of the colors are city blacks and grays. The concrete jungle looks good for the most part, but I couldn’t help but notice that skin tones and details came off a bit on the soft side. There was detail, just not extremely sharp or vivid detail. There is also a layer of grain apparent on the transfer, which helps give the film a unique look, but robs it of extreme detail. It’s not the most colorful transfer, but given the type of film and the location it was set in I’d say the transfer is what the director would have wanted.
The Art of Getting By being a drama means that the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track isn’t going to be blowing the roof off the house. The film is mainly dialogue, but the surrounding environment does poke its way through when they take the talking to the streets. Cars and buses can be heard in the back channels when there outside and classmates and other minor details come to life when they’re in doors. Most of the films audio will be focused in the front channels though, which is protocol for romantic dramas. The dialogue is clear and understandable when it comes out of the front channels. Even the faintest voices and quietest whispers can be heard without much distraction.
The Art of Getting By comes to Blu-Ray with a small amount of short special features. Check out the list below.
- Audio Commentary with Director Gavin Wiesen
- New York Slice of Life (HD): The cast and crew briefly discuss New York as a location and a character.
- On Young Love (HD): Director Gavin Wiesen and stars Emma Roberts and Freddie Highmore discuss the puppy love relationship between the two main characters.
- Fox Movie Channel presents in Character with Freddie Highmore (SD): A Fox Movie Channel extra that features actor Freddie Highmore discussing his character George; his connection with the character and his motives throughout the film.
- HBO First Look: The Making of The Art of Getting By (HD): An HBO First Look that’s broken up into several sections:
The Art of the Story – Gavin Wiesen discusses the story and where he got the idea from.
The Art of the Cast – The director and several cast members discuss the casting of the main characters.
The Art of Writing and Directing – Actors discuss Gavin’s writing and directing ability and how much they enjoyed his specific vision.
The Art of Location – Pretty much the New York Slice of Life feature with added discussion on the importance of New York.
- Theatrical Trailer (HD)
One of the beauties of home video is how it can change the impact of your opinion on a film. I wouldn’t suggest making a trip to the theater to see The Art of Getting By because of its messy ending and formula story, but I would suggest it as a rental. Watching the film at home allows for viewers to engage more with the characters and dismiss some of the minor flaws that would otherwise become irritating on the big screen. Freddie Highmore and Emma Roberts make it worthy of watching for their character work alone and director Gavin Wiesen presents a very personal story that most will be able to relate to. It’s the shy boy falling in sick love with the attractive classmate that just wants to hear him say he loves her.
It shares similar complications of other films from the genre, but it differs in its stripped down realistic approach. It doesn’t have much comedy to keep you happy throughout the film; instead it asks that you invest time into the characters. The reward isn’t that great because of the cliché ending, but up until that point the film really works.
The Blu-Ray itself looks fine for an independent film that takes place in New York and it sounds clear enough for dialogue to be understood, which is the main attraction for this film. The special features are short and simple. They don’t add much of anything you didn’t already know and if anything they just reinstate how important this film was to Gavin Wiesen and how much he enjoyed working with Freddie Highmore and Emma Roberts.
I found it much more enjoyable than Juno and (500) Days of Summer, but I was one of those rare birds that despise both of those films. It’s not upbeat and cute like those films; it’s sweet and honest though, which is much more entertaining I’d say.
Freddie Highmore and Emma Roberts provide two really strong performances and director Gavin Wiesen keeps the film tight and focused.