June 20, 2011

Movie Review: The Art of Getting By

This is a fun quirky little indie. When it played Sundance earlier this year it went by the name Homework. I a not sure if a name change is the only thing that happened to it or if it underwent any further editing in the wake of its distribution deal, but I can say that the new title is certainly a step up. Don't you think The Art of Getting By sounds better? Sounds like it would make a great pairing with It's Kind of a Funny Story (which, coincidentally, also co-stars Emma Roberts). Both are populated with quirky characters and a central character trying to deal with the world around him in angsty, indie fashion.

AS I sat there watching Freddie Highmore, as George, go through his grappling with mortality an the pointlessness of everything, I felt a little conflicted. On one hand there was something strangely affecting about the youth's fatalistic angst expressed through art without meaning. However, the enjoyment was counterbalanced by the feeling that this was little more than indie shorthand, collecting many of the tropes, quirks, and affectations of other teen-centric indies while not really offering anything of itself.

In the end, I can say that I liked the film despite its lack of a unique voice. I suspect that this is due to the central performances of Highmore and Roberts, as well as some supporting work from Michael Angarano as a slacker mentor artist to George, Blair Underwood, and Jarlath Conroy than what the story had to offer itself. Also, there is the fact that a young friend of mine is an artist seeking his voice, not unlike the main character, although I feel it safe to say he is going about it in a much less fatalistic fashion.

The Art of Getting By centers on George (Highmore), a too smart for school senior who is suffering from fatalistic depression brought on by the realization that everyone dies and that life has little point, considering the inevitability of death. On top of that, his mother and stepfather are having money issues, and he is in danger of not graduating due to the fact he stopped doing his work in the face of his soul-crushing mortality. Pretty much all he is able to do is draw and sketch in whatever he happens to have at hand, but nothing is good enough for him, no heart or soul.

The center of the story is George and Sally (Roberts). He is the loner, she is the pretty rebel (she, gasp, smokes!) and they embark on something of an awkward friendship that seems to carry the inevitable with it, although they move in fits and spurts and there is the third wheel of Dustin (Michael Angarano) who interferes with the proceedings.

It moves along in the expected way, sure to hit on all the things that identify it as a quirky indie. It is a shorthand collection of all things indie, yet it still works. Is it original? Not particularly. The cast is good. I think Highmore does a good job of embodying the stereotypical smart/loner type while the unlikely relationship is believable with Roberts able to pull of that certain something that makes us believe her and still be surprised at some of the things she does.

This is the first feature for writer/director Gavin Weisen and he does a fine job of hitting all the points. What I think he needs to do next time is, much like George, find his artistic voice and something to say rather than show us what he thinks we want to see. I think he can.


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