johnlink ranks THE ART OF GETTING BY (2011)

When I chose to give this a watch I had no idea what I was getting into. I knew it starred young actors Freddie Highmore (CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, AUGUST RUSH) and Emma Roberts (SCREAM 4, being Julia Roberts’ niece). I knew it was comedic. What I didn’t know is whether it fell into the sophomoric teen comedy genre like CAN’T HARDLY WAIT, or if it was a more mature look at the Problems Witty Kids Have like CHARLIE BARTLETT. I didn’t really care. I was in the mood for something young and whimsical. This movie absolutely satisfied that mood. And, for the record, it falls into the category of Problems Witty Kids Have.

I watched THE ART OF GETTING BY (2011) on 8.9.12. It was my first viewing of the film.

This is a really nice movie. A really sweet movie. George (Highmore) is a loner, slacker, emo kid who is unabashedly fatalistic. He befriends Sally (Roberts) who gets him out of his funk while becoming both his first true friend, and his first true crush. There’s plenty of witty banter to go around. Being a romance, the typical beats can be found. Will they or won’t they? Someone makes a clumsy pass. Someone gets betrayed. Can they repair the damage done?

The most endearing thing about this film is that these young Manhattan kids are truly kids. Oh, they party like adults. They drink wine like adults, they attempt to talk like adults. But their emotions are not fully formed, and their mistakes are the mistakes kids make all the time. Mistakes kids need to make in order to grow. Sally casually mentions having sex with George. She knows he has a crush on her, but he doesn’t make a move. She hopes it will get a positive response out of him, and instead he freezes. She backtracks and says she was just joking, which only makes things worse. Their friendship hits its first real snag, as no one can be the bigger person and just speak honestly. We feel that with them, we want to smack them and say “JUST TALK!”. But it is something they need to go through.

The parents are more screwed up than the kids. Sally doesn’t want to become like her mom, who had Sally at 16 and never grew up emotionally. George knows his mother and stepfather are having financial problems, but he keeps himself separate from their issues. Both of these kids are children of broken relationships, both have a void in their home life they hope to fill. Sally does it by partying and being carefree. George, at the start of the film, does it by being dramatically different.

Interestingly, I’ve read some negative reviews of this film where critics knock Highmore for not being dark enough, not fatalistic enough, not deep enough. I get that to a certain point. But I also think his whole mood is an act at the start of the film. Sure, he’s come to believe some of the things he says like: “I read a quote once when I was a kid: ‘We live alone, We die alone. Everything else is just an illusion.’ It used to keep me up at night.”

However, his mood has kept him from truly being the artists he wants to be, from truly finding himself. Sally opens that part of him up. When he gets into a similar depressed funk after they fight, it is a different mood. He’s not lying there saying “I should have known this was going to happen.” Instead he realizes, “I should never have let this happen.” He becomes an active participant in his life, rather than assuming the worst. It’s a major emotional transition, which Highmore plays with subtlety. Perhaps, it could be said, that he is too subtle.

Roberts is really good here. She’s vulnerable, she makes mistakes, she lives honestly. I didn’t think of her as much of an actress before this, but I would seek out her stuff from here on out. She really keeps this movie out of the emotional gutter with her sly smile. The two of them play well together, it’s nice to see. The movie skips along its own timeline like a stone on a pond. We get a few minutes here; then we jump several weeks and get a few minutes there. This sub 90 minute movie takes place over an entire academic year, so these actors don’t have all the time in the world to get us to like them (especially when George is so cynical). It is a credit to the actors that they are successful in doing so.

Some of the dialogue gets to be a bit clichéd in parts, but not egregiously so. Some of the plot turns are expected, but they are still effective enough. The bottom line, really, is that when the final moments of the film came I really didn’t know where it was going to go. Sally says some infuriating things to George, which he just accepts as fine things to be told. I really wasn’t sure what this movie was trying to say until the last minute. But I ultimately left liking the message.

This isn’t a genre for everyone. Cynics, I’m sure, roll their eyes at the Problems of High School Kids. And, sometimes, these kind of movies can be fluff. But, despite a relatively weak reception by critics, I really appreciated this movie. I feel like plenty of kids would relate to the problems of these two. Perhaps the film is slightly hurt by making them Manhattan socialites rather than Everykid in Small Town, USA. But the themes of these kids trying to act like an adult feel genuine. The Manhattan setting certainly heightens that aspect of the movie.

There are some really nice supporting performances. Blair Underwood is great as the world’s most forgiving Principal. Jarlath Conroy steals every scene he is in as George’s art teacher at school. Michael Angarano nicely plays the mentor-turned-rival Dustin. I appreciate that Angarano isn’t a prick, isn’t just out to get Sally. In some alternate universe this could be his movie, and George would just be some kid who also likes the girl Dustin has fallen for. On the other hand, the script really leaves his character hanging at the end of this, since it is not his movie.

I went into this movie having no idea what I was getting into. Turns out, what I got was a dramedy about high school kids which gets so much more right than it does wrong. I wasn’t blown out of the water by this the way I was with CHARLIE BARTLETT, but there are some parts of this movie which hit that standard. THE ART OF GETTING BY is a movie I enjoyed, a movie which made me think, and a movie which will stick with me. In today’s film landscape, that is no small task.



I really liked the Indy Rock soundtrack. The music provides a nice pulse for this movie, a steady and rhythmic beat which puts us at the speed of these characters. It’s a soundtrack I’d put on in the background of my life.



~ by johnlink00 on August 10, 2012.

One Response to “johnlink ranks THE ART OF GETTING BY (2011)”

  1. […] to an innocent kid who helps her, Scott (Michael Angarano, who I just discovered in the underrated THE ART OF GETTING BY). By half way throw this sub-90 minute movie, it has all dissolved into a mess. We know these […]

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