Back in 2008, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist offered young love, angst and a nice New York tourism plug for the Gossip Girl crowd that is now a template for the youth of the generation, while somehow making older folks pine for John Hughes all the more. Following in similar footsteps, The Art of Getting By is a nice, albeit formulaic addition to the genre where concept and characters are just enough to overlook the lack of much else.
Freddie Highmore is George Zinavoy, a 17-year-old who has tuned in and dropped out, but nothing turns him on. Too old to be bullied, but too young to worry about refinancing, though you wouldn’t know it by his disinterest in anything and everybody. A gifted artist and a bit of a savant, he’s a self proclaimed “Teflon slacker”. He’s skipped on homework for the entire year with little repercussions, but it’s not to play Duke Nukem or chase girls, but rather, because as he says, there are “6.8 billion people on the planet, and none of them will survive. Why should I spend my life figuring how the square root of a hypotenuse will alter my fate?” Now that’s something you don’t hear at every job interview.
A blonde ray of light shines into his Camus inspired world in the form of the popular Sally Howe (Emma Roberts, niece of Julia). George saves her from getting a demerit (or whatever they call it now) for smoking in school and the two become inseparable. Sally’s not sure what to make of her emo knight in shining armor, but that doesn’t stop her from introducing her to her friends, taking George to a club in one of the film’s funnier scenes and later giving him an indecent proposal that most guys would die for.
Life starts to look up for our latter day Caulfield until things take a turn when our Catcher meets Dustin (Michael Angarano), an art graduate from school. Dustin is the tortured artist that George aspires to be. Will George graduate? Will anyone notice that Spielberg’s daughter is in this movie? And will the soundtrack make you want to embrace the complexities of life? At least one of those will be answered, I promise.
Cursed with not being born in Asgard or having the luck of being given a magic green ring, poor Gavin Wiesen was forced to write from his own experiences. He does a fine job though and should be credited for keeping this at a very tight 84 minutes, most of which are pretty enjoyable.
I would’ve liked to have known a real-life George, although you also got the feeling that such a fatalist was only a step away from using firearms to feel something. Wiesen constantly keeps us guessing as to whether George’s apathy is an alarming character trait or a chemical imbalance, all the while making you want to hug him in a last ditch effort to show him life’s not all shades of gray.
Sally’s sexy demeanor is as soft as her voice. It’s not until later that you know if she has genuine feelings for him or if she’s stringing him along in the “friend zone”, even prompting cool mom (Elizabeth Reaser) to take a break from her self-imposed hot tin roof to warn her daughter about George’s feelings.
Characters carry The Art of Getting By so casting directors Jodi Angstreich, Maribeth Fox and Laura Rosenthal deserve just as much credit as the first time writer-director does. Roberts has gone from Nancy Drew to ingenue in The Art of Getting By and it’s good thing, because it’s her looks and onscreen charm coupled with Wiesen’s words that make you forget that the problems these Upper West Siders face could barely fill a commercial let alone a film.
Sally’s hipster friends (Sasha Spielberg, Marcus Carl Franklin) never raise their voice to her even when she blows them off to be with the borderline antisocial George. Speaking of said Zinavoy, his privileged ways belie his thrift store long coat. Even his prep school has teachers (including Alicia Silverstone) who will and continue to bend over backwards for him until the very end.
George is no Holden Caulfield and certainly no Ferris, but The Art of Getting By is still a decent day off and a good calling card for Gavin Wiesen, who has certainly mastered formula, although the formula could use a little more salt.