The Art of Getting By (Fox Searchlight, PG-13)

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A big contributing factor to why The Art of Getting By winds up being (marginally) better than the sum of its parts is that it gets most of the little details right.

 

We’ve seen variations on The Art of Getting By’s plot a million times before. Angsty, fatalistic young loner artist finds kindred spirit/muse in angsty, beautiful popular girl with a darkness beneath her fetching exterior, and they learn to wallow together. It’s an overly specific variation on one of the most reviled of modern genres, the romantic comedy, though it isn’t a given in a coming of age story of this sort that the two leads will actually get together in the end, as they so reliably do in romantic comedies. For some reason I seem to be a bit of a sucker for movies like these, and The Art of Getting By echoes some of my recent favorites, such as Terry Zwigoff’s Art School Confidential, Noah Baumbach’s The Squid & the Whale, and Burr Steers’ Igby Goes Down. Granted, it isn’t nearly as good as any of these (perhaps due to the fact that it is much more formulaic), but it’s relatively enjoyable all the same.

The Art of Getting By is by a first time writer/director of feature films, Gavin Wiesen, but you probably know its cast; the lead angsty, troublemaking artist, George, is played by Freddie Highmore, who was Peter in Finding Neverland and Charlie in Tim Burton’s atrocious Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Here he’s mostly grown and looking like a burgeoning tween star. The female lead, beautiful/troubled Sally, is the recently ubiquitous Emma Roberts, who in addition to being the lead in Scream 4 and playing a character very similar to Sally in It’s Kind of a Funny Story, is of course Julia Roberts’ niece and Eric Roberts’ daughter. Rounding out the main cast is a slightly older artist named Dustin (Michael Angarano) who mentors George. At the time of this writing Angarano is 23 years old and perhaps best known for playing the young version of Patrick Fugit in Almost Famous, but he’s likeable enough here to give the audience a pass on him being the wise older character. Popping up as teachers are Alicia Silverstone (perhaps less dubious than Drew Barrymore playing one in Donnie Darko) and Blair Underwood, though Jarlath Conroy as art teacher Harris McElroy is the real scene-stealer among the supporting cast.

A big contributing factor to why The Art of Getting By winds up being (marginally) better than the sum of its parts is that it gets most of the little details right—a big one being that George’s artwork (done by Robert Bohn) is much better than the usual depiction of the art of fictional characters. The Upper West Side setting is fun, too, with George walking by Tom’s Restaurant (otherwise known as Monk’s Café in Seinfeld, if in exterior only) early in the film, and when George reads the angsty teenager staple The Stranger, he has the good sense to read the best translation of Albert Camus’ original French, the one by Stuart Gilbert.

As with most run-of-the-mill genre pictures, you should have an idea by now as to whether or not you would like The Art of Getting By, and more likely than not your instincts are correct. I found it to be an agreeable enough trifle, but it’s so predictable and done-before that I wouldn’t begin to argue its merits with someone who didn’t like it. | Pete Timmermann

 

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