The Art of Getting By

“The Art of Getting By” | a film review by Gary Chew

Freddie Highmore (“Finding Neverland”) has sprouted into sort of a tallish Bud Cort kind of kid, so well-remembered in “Harold & Maude.” But Mr. Highmore, in his role as George Zinavoy, is not quite as fatalistic as the funereal Harold was in his early 70s adventures with the hip, elderly Maude.

Even as soon as the opening credits of “The Art of Getting By,” you’ll see George in the cafeteria reading Camus’ “The Stranger” (“L’Etranger”), proving this New York City teenager—with a penchant for drawing really cool doodles in class—is in the ‘grips’ of his own meaninglessness. And he hasn’t even really hooked-up with Sally Howe—yet. That would be the role played by Emma Roberts (“It’s Kind of a Funny Story”).

It’s all looking, I guess you could say, “unmeaningful” for George in the grades department, too, as well as just about everything else in his young life. He’s way behind in his assignments. His teachers—one played by “Clueless’s” Alicia Silverstone, all grown up, looking matronly—are aware of the brilliance that’s coupled with George’s inability to sense purpose.

Art class even has George up against the wall. His art teacher, Harris, played lovingly gruff by Jarlath Conroy, is riding herd on the uninspired, but talented George to get his head into something just for creation’s sake.

Blair Underwood

Principal Martinson, so well-done by Blair Underwood (“Gattaca”), is really on George’s case for being so Slacker City. Things are so uneven for him, George might not even make it to Diplomasville.

On the home front, George’s mom and her spouse are having financial difficulties with step dad’s business, as young George and Sally begin traipsing the path toward school chummanship and, gawd, who knows what else. Further complications arise from both George and Sally’s relative lack of experience in matters of… well, you know.

Some sauce, but not a lot, is spooned onto this tender, funny, coming-of-age yarn (PG-13) that has Sally’s divorced mom, played by Elizabeth Reaser (“Sweet Land” one of my faves), as a lady who might be perceived as a sleep-around parent. There are funny moments between George and Mrs. Howe due to her sense of, uh, openness… not too mention, when George gets sick-drunk at a party with Sally, and she takes him home with her to sleep it off till sunup.

George may be depressed, but he’s not that depressed, especially on waking up near Sally after an uneventful, soporous night in her bedroom. He may be an existential burnt-out case, but, gals, Georgie is more than just a little shy.

Another slacker, of sorts, enters into all of this “gettingbyness.” Michael Angarano, appearing, facially, to be a cross between Don Johnson and John Cusak, plays Dustin—a scuffling painter, who slowly grows in Brooklyn. Dustin seems trustworthy to George, making him prone to take Dustin’s lead, as the listless kid struggles to get his art together.

Rita Wilson

George’s mother is played noticeably well by Rita Wilson; his step dad by Sam Robards, the real-live offspring of Jason Robards and Lauren Bacall. Yet another cast member also has a magical movie name in “The Art of Getting By.” It’s one of Sally’s gal pals, Zoe, played by Sasha Spielberg. If you can’t imagine who Sasha’s daddy is, just think, to yourself: “Super 8.”

What’s best said about “Art,” though, is what’s best about this first feature by writer/director, Gavin Wiesen, a sensitive newcomer to cinema, who assisted director, Bruce Paltrow with the nutty 2000 flick, “Duets.” Just pick up on the stern care and concern reflected by the educators portrayed in Wiesen’s “Getting By,” especially the principal and a couple of George’s teachers. The looks they give him, and the harsh preaching-to, they do, in order to get the kid on-track to SOME-thing seems very genuine… and terribly pleasing to watch.

It actually brought back some memories… and warmed up the old heart, a little: such a good thing, these days.

“The Art of Getting By” official site. Opens widely on June 17.
Copyright © 2011, Gary Chew. All rights reserved.

Gary Chew
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