Friday, June 17, 2011

The Art of Getting By

"Before life gets in the way, start living."

George, a lonely and fatalistic teen who's made it all the way to his senior year without ever having done a real day of work, is befriended by Sally, a popular but complicated girl who recognizes in him a kindred spirit in The Art of Getting By a clever, coming-of-age film that, while imperfect, has a gifted cast that makes it extremely interesting and watchable. It’s a small film from a first time director (Gavin Wiesen), which came out of the Sundance Film Festival under the original title of Homework. The story centers around a high school senior named George (Freddie Highmore of August Rush and Charlie & the Chocolate Factory fame) who is a slacker. He is extremely intelligent, gifted and a talented artist who struggles with his purpose in life and is accomplished in getting out of having to complete his homework assignments.  The strict, but supportive Principal Martinson (Blair Underwood), against the wishes of his teachers, allows him one last chance to  complete all his assignments from the past year or he will be expelled. At home there is trouble, he encounters a new mentor who begins to inspire him and a romantic relationship develops with one of his few close friends, Sally (Emma Roberts). The Art of Getting By ends up being a thoughtful story of a troubled young man coming to grips with his life laced with a hint of romantic comedy. While some of the subplots are wanting, the film succeeds on the strength its star performances and their chemistry together.  I particularly enjoyed the quiet depth and confused mix of seriousness and dazed confusion that Freddie Highmore brought to George. He is fascinating to watch as his character wins the audience over with his dry wit, troubled expressions, and yearning for understanding far deeper than what lies within many high schools’ walls and students’ minds. Every emotion, fear and desire is just floating off him like a series of misguided emotional auras. Across from Highmore is the beautiful Emma Roberts as Sally who is attracted to George, finding him a kindred spirit. Rita Wilson is excellent as George’s mother, full of sorrow and fear and, later, strength. Blair Underwood is a believably understanding high school principal and  Alicia Silverstone makes an extended cameo as Ms. Herman, the English teacher who sees past George’s excuses and attitude. There are others worth watching and the ensemble works together in spite of the sea of troubles that almost sinks the film. 

It slowed a bit about two thirds of the way through but then picked up for an unexpectedly optimistic ending (sorry if that spoils the suspense for anyone).  Highmore and Roberts shine in the lead roles and exhibit infectious chemistry onscreen. Both are instantly likable and engaging. It is difficult not to root for George.  The film is unusually optimistic for one having such gloomy visual style and a cast of despondent characters. I was glad I sought it out as it was not at my favorite neighborhood theater.

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