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Just Another Goddamn Phony

by Laura Leon on June 22, 2011

The Art of Getting By
Directed by Gavin Wiesen

Cinematically, my high school career looked a lot more like Elizabeth McGovern in Ordinary People (minus the boyfriend, disturbed or otherwise) than something more infectiously fun like Fast Times at Ridgemont High or brazenly anarchist, like Bottle Rocket. Still, most people I know, myself included, find an innocuous charm in teen slacker movies. Imagining that you had the finesse of a Ferris Bueller still holds water, even when your school days are far behind you. So, too, does feeling like you’re one with the pack, however motley, a la The Breakfast Club. I admit I was looking forward to seeing The Art of Getting By, even if I risked being the only audience attendee of a certain age, because I hoped that it would propel the romantic, silly nostalgia one gets when watching John Hughes teen flicks on late-night TV.

However, that was not to be. The Art of Getting By, about a slacker kid, George (Freddie Highmore) who has made it to senior year without ever doing any real work, has got to be one of the laziest, most inane film experiences I’ve had in recent memory. When George realizes that he’s got to do all his schoolwork, like, in one week, he enlists the help of Sally (Emma Roberts, pictured). Supposedly, the two are soulmates, but it’s hard to see what the earnest and winsome Sally sees in the vaguely Columbine-esque George. He skips school in favor of visiting arthouse cinemas (not exactly a waste of time) and enlists Sally in his program of learning via experiencing the city. In this way, he’s like a junior Woody Allen, except he’s missing the wit, the wisdom, and the right degree of neuroses.

It’s nice to see Highmore return to the screen—many will remember him as the appealing child actor who starred opposite Johnny Depp in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Neverland. Unfortunately, this vehicle is not likely to catapult him to the forefront of our collective memory. The script is appallingly constructed, with characters talking in ways that just don’t come across as real or natural. It’s as if the writers were trying really hard to say something pithy and deep, and instead come across as anything but. Even as escapist fluff, The Art of Getting By fails abysmally, and one can only hope that the next project of the talented Highmore and Roberts is even a degree better than this abject failure.