Monday, June 20, 2011

The Art of Getting By

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB ()  Roger Ebert (2 1/2 stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Roger Ebert's review -

The Art of Getting By (written and directed by Gavin Wiesen) is a gentle teen oriented movie that would be my current candidate for this year’s “surprise movie of the summer.”  It’s still early, so there may be other “surprising movies” that will be released this summer, but it’s hard to imagine a movie of this kind topping this movie this year.  I only hope that The Art of Getting By will not be forgotten come Oscar time because IMHO, Wiesen deserves a screen-play and perhaps even a directing nomination for this effort.  It may be too much to ask for Freddie Highmore and Emma Roberts playing the two teen protagonists in the film to similarly get nominations, but I found their performances to be dead on/excellent as well.

Okay, what’s this movie about?  Entering his high school senior year, George Zinavoy (played by Freddie Highmore) discovers that “he’s going to die sometime.”  No he’s not facing any immediate ailment, neither does he feel particularly sick.  He’s just discovered his mortality – as only a teenager could – and it depresses him.  “What’s the point ... of doing anything?” spending his days doodling, quite creatively actually, all over his high school textbooks.  Trigonometry teacher, Mrs Grimes (played by Ann Dowd) smells a dodge and reports him to Principal Martinson (played by Blair Underwood) who gives him a lecture.  English literature teacher, Ms Herman (played by Alicia Silverstone) tries to get him to engage him.  Art teacher (played by Jarlath Conroy) has seen such attitude before and basically ignores him in his funk.  At some point Principal Martinson suggests that George pay special attention on “careeer day” to Dustin (played by Michael Angarano) a graduate of the school, who’s become an artist.  Dustin about 10 years older than George takes him under his wing, sort of, but it’s clear from the outset that Dustin doesn’t exactly have things figured out much either. 

It’s also clear that there’s some trouble at home, with mom, Vivian, (played by Rita Wilson) concerned about George’s future and stepdad Jack Sargent (played by Sam Robards) “trying” as well, but not too much (as George isn’t exactly his kid anyway ...).

Who _does_ come to provide “light” to George’s darkness is Sally (played by Emma Roberts) a much more outgoing and quite attractive high school senior, who George inadvertently/ backhandedly “saves” one afternoon.  Standing on the rooftop patio of the upscale school, somewhere in Manhattan, staring out into the nothingness of the horizon, he’s not exactly doing much.  Emma’s up there as well, facing another direction, smoking a cigarette.  A teacher comes up, smells the cigarette, and says “Hey, who’s smoking up here?” (It’s obviously against the rules).  Sally quickly puts out her cigarette and tosses it away.  George, depressed “rebel” that he is, actually pulls out a cigarette and lights it .  Sally doesn’t get it, neither does the teacher.  But the only one holding a lit cigarette is George.  So George “takes the fall.” 

From that point onward, Sally finds George interesting enough to make a friend.  It helps, actually, that depressed as he is, he appears to be the only guy in the school who doesn’t seem to be interested in hitting on her. 

Sally has her own problems.  Her randy, well kept, still bombshell-looking late-30-something early-40-something mother, Charlotte (played by Elizabeth Reaser) seems to be dressed one nightgown or another throughout the whole of the movie and far more adept at giving advice on how to get over a hang-over than most – parents or teens – would be comfortable with.  Sally had been a “tag-along” to her mother’s upscale affairs for most of her life.  I suppose one could give Charlotte some credit – she _could_ have dumped Sally off at “grandma’s” long ago.  Instead, Charlotte kept Sally around as part of her life, perhaps like a prized Persian cat or otherwise pet with a pedigree. 

Most of Sally’s other friends are dollar-sign in the eyes seeing strivers as well.  So good-ole depressed George is actually a breath of fresh air for her as well.

So then, this is the set-up to a teenage angst/growing up movie easily of the caliber of The Breakfast Club or Dead Poets’ Society.

Parents should be warned that while the language is not bad and, no, the two teenage protagonists _don’t_ sleep together (given the above description of her mother, one could understand why Sally wouldn’t be particularly interested in jumping into the sack with her only real friend, and George is, well, George, throughout most of the movie ...).  There is however, typically teenage sexual banter that may make some parents uncomfortable.  I’m not sure if most teens below the upper grades of high school would get this movie much less kids below their teenage years.

Still for juniors and seniors in high school as well as for the college aged, I would think that The Art of Getting By would be a really great, easily relatable movie.

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