The Art of Getting By Review
Right from the opening world-weary monologue of long-coat wearing, floppy-haired, George Zinavoy considering the insignificance of one person in the scheme of the whole history of humanity, by way of explaining his whole slumped, distracted and unengaged demeanour in class as he declares to his teacher that he hasn’t bothered doing his trigonometry exercise because he is depressed, The Art of Getting By has “indie movie” written all over it. And it looks the part, the main drive of the film being a based around a cute boy/girl relationship that contrasts the life of one young man (Freddie Highmore) from a modest family background, artistically inclined and not really fitting in with the academic programme or the social categorisation at Morgan High School in New York with that of a rather more beautiful and popular girl, Sally (Emma Roberts) who is way out of his league and sees him as nothing more than a friend, but who after spending some time with the young man comes to recognise that there’s a lot more to George than others might realise.
There is of course much to love in the character of George, particularly as he is played by Freddie Highmore. It’s clear that he’s sensitive, intelligent and artistically talented. All he needs is someone to recognise these attributes, help him get over his shyness and awkwardness, and find a means of self-expression that will allow him to thrive. Sally, as played by Emma Roberts with a nonchalant easy-going charm that is setting her up as a rival for Michelle Williams as the indie girl of choice at the moment, is clearly the girl who might be able to reach in and draw George out of his shell, and maybe even out of his virginity. She’s beautiful and confident, is used to having guys around her, but knows exactly what she is looking for, and if it’s not exactly George – who she sees mostly as a friend – she knows it’s not the popular, pushy kind of guys who flock around her either, and she knows just how to deal with their kind. George however also needs encouragement of another sort to help him find his inner self and express it artistically, and that opens up in the form of a former artschool graduate from his school, Dustin (Michael Angarano). Dustin is where George wants to be – artistic, free, independent and easy going with women – but those same qualities that George hasn’t quite mastered also make Dustin attractive to Sally.
Gavin Weisen’s film certainly looks the part of the indie movie (and has the requisite cool soundtrack to match), and the relationship that develops between George and Sally, with the added complication of Dustin, is for the most part charming and engaging, but in reality The Art of Getting By actually proves to be something of an anti-indie movie by the end. This isn’t the kind of film where George’s difference is celebrated as being a more refreshing and honest reaction to the world around him, but rather it’s the kind of film that sets out to prove that the weirdness can be knocked out of him if he meets the right kind of girl, and that even geeks can be redeemed and made to fit into the system if they buckle down, do the work, get all those silly ideas out of their head and think about how much they can contribute to the economy and the nation by getting a good well-paid job and being a happy consumer. And, you never know, they might even get the beautiful girl in the end as well. What’s worrying about this attitude, besides ending up being utterly false and a near complete betrayal of the characters you have come to invest some sympathy in over the course of the movie, is that it almost makes you want to believe it could be true. And who wouldn’t sell-out if they were being offered the promise of winning the heart of Emma Roberts? Ah, if only...
The Art of Getting By then passes the time enjoyably, and gives it audience exactly what they think they want, fooling them into believing they are watching something a little bit more edgy and outside the mainstream, but without ever challenging them with anything genuine, original, or even realistic. What’s worse is that the whole attitude of the film, and seemingly its purpose – since that’s exactly what it does to George – is to “co-opt” the indie movie and draw it back into the mainstream. The part of you that is conditioned to long for conventional cinematic closure and resolution will welcome this, but hopefully a part of you will be screaming inside at George, willing him to tell them all to go stuff themselves. It ain’t gonna happen here though.