The Art of Getting By Dir. Gavin Wiesen

[Fox Searchlight; 2011]

Styles: teen/romance
Others: It’s Kind of a Funny Story

The title The Art of Getting By makes it sound like there will be something at stake in this movie, something like the survival of a young artist in the cruel world. But there is no real worry about “getting by” for our protagonist, complainy Manhattan prep schooler George (Freddie Highmore). He’s quite well-off, and his problems don’t amount to much more than a desire to not work. So right off the bat, The Art of Getting By is a letdown. Then it gets worse.

In lieu of paying attention to his intelligent, sincere teachers, George takes walks around Manhattan spouting the same type of dialogue Woody Allen, as a joke, gave to his childhood self in Annie Hall about fear of our essential mortality and the meaninglessness of it all. He also draws in notebooks, and, briefly, we see him reading Camus. The writer isn’t directly quoted, but we’re led to believe The Stranger has provided the basis for George’s malaise. Like many upper-class high-schoolers, he sees nothing wrong with using a convenient philosophical point of view as an excuse to ditch out on homework.

The same token is used by director Gavin Wiesen, who finds a convenient excuse to ditch out of difficult questions (not only about angst, but also about adolescence in general) by simply sketching out the unnameable anxieties of teenage years and noting that they’re kind of confusing. He does cram in a love interest, an angelic young girl (Emma Roberts) whose mission is to swoop in and save George’s faltering self-esteem, but this is at best a distraction from the upper-crust dawdling and is a typically movie-world view of teen romance to boot.

It’s probably the mark of many people’s teenage years to be caught between complex emotions and the lack of ability to express them. Or at least, this paradox first occurs to most people while they’re in their teens. There’s nothing inherently wrong with pointing this out, but when that’s all a movie can do — when the anxieties presented put so little at stake — then there really isn’t a movie at all. I’d like to defy people to see The Art of Getting By and tell me what could possibly be taken from it. But that would be recommending it, something that, as both a film critic and a former angsty teen, I just can’t do.

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