Blu-ray Review: ‘The Art of Getting By’ Sleepwalks Through Coming-of-Age Clichés

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly versionE-mail page to friendE-mail page to friendPDF versionPDF version
No votes yet

CHICAGO – Poor George Zinavoy. He’s been cursed with striking good looks, remarkable artistic talent, a dedicated mentor and a gorgeous woman who clearly desires to have sex with him. Thankfully, nothing appears to have gotten in the way of his stubborn pessimism, comfortable apathy and belief in the meaningless of existence. How can George be expected to care about his homework when he’s too busy contemplating his mortality?

For that matter, how can audiences be expected to care about such an unsympathetic, oddly soulless Holden Caulfield clone? He goes through the usual existential motions with all the urgency and conviction of a sleepwalker. As played by baby faced, moist-eyed Freddie Highmore, George registers as a mopey bore rather than a fatalist. Highmore’s genial sweetness lacks the raw edge and rebellious spirit that the character desperately needed in order to be the least bit credible. Blu-ray Rating: 2.0/5.0
Blu-ray Rating: 2.0/5.0

Just like the ashen-faced adolescent hero of the superior coming-of-age comedy, “Submarine,” George wears a black overcoat at all times, while explaining to his perplexed peers that he “likes layers.” Too bad writer/director Gavin Wiesen fails to give his protagonist any interesting dimensions beyond the usual coming-of-age neuroses. It’s easy to see why this Fox Searchlight dud briefly played in theaters over the summer before unceremoniously arriving on Blu-ray. There’s very little here to warrant sufficient interest, even though Highmore and his onscreen would-be girlfriend, Emma Roberts, struggle mightily to make their characters endearing and relatable. This is Highmore’s first attempt at breaking out of the child actor persona that entrapped the similarly gifted Haley Joel Osment. Highmore sported remarkable screen presence in films such as “Finding Neverland” and “August Rush,” though his characters never allowed him to display much range. George is an entirely different animal from the angelic youngsters he’s perviously mastered, and Highmore proves to be entirely miscast, groaning lines like, “I’m allergic to hormones,” with no sense of wit or authenticity (“Norman” star Dan Byrd would’ve been a perfect fit for the role).

The Art of Getting By was released on Blu-ray and DVD on Nov. 29, 2011.
The Art of Getting By was released on Blu-ray and DVD on Nov. 29, 2011.
Photo credit: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment

In contrast, Michael Angarano (as George’s mentor) is far more comfortable in his own skin, and generates effortless chemistry with Roberts in their few scenes together. Yet the most compelling scene stealer is Irish character actor Jarlath Conroy, who growls through the role of George’s art teacher as if he were auditioning for Burgess Meredith’s role in “Rocky.” He’s over the top, but at least he’s tangibly, exhilaratingly alive. From the overwritten opening monologue to the final note of whimsical uncertainty (which has quickly become an expected cliché in touchy-feely indies), George remains a posturing, photogenic construct devoid of charm or personality. He’s offered so many second chances from the people he’s routinely ignored that it starts to become an unintentional running gag. How’s this kid going to learn if he doesn’t lose something?

“The Art of Getting By” is presented in 1080p High Definition (with a 2.40:1 aspect ratio) and includes subtitled song lyrics that allow hard-of-hearing viewers to fully appreciate Wiesen’s carefully selected soundtrack choices, such as Leonard Cohen’s “Winter Lady,” which the director first discovered in Robert Altman’s great “McCabe & Mrs. Miller.” It’s clear just how personal this debut film was to Wiesen, who was determined to highlight his favorite overlooked pockets of New York City’s Upper East and West sides. The project crystallized once Wiesen turned 31 and started feeling nostalgic for his high school years. He wanted to cast actors close to the age of their characters, and he thought Highmore would an ideal choice for the lead, since his suppressed Britishness would make him appear even more out of place in an American school.
Yet in the rather revealing audio commentary track, Wiesen discusses the various production pressures and hurdles that he ran up against while working within a condensed 22-day shooting schedule. He estimates that at least twenty percent of scenes were grabbed on the fly, and he only started to feel like the footage came close to his original vision after shooting the “depression montage” where George obsessively broods to “Winter Lady.” Wiesen says that he finds the indulgence of George’s adolescent heartbreak amusing, but the humor doesn’t come through in the final cut. Perhaps Wiesen’s intended cut is lost somewhere on the cutting room floor. Yet when faced with such a rushed shooting schedule, I can imagine that many overwhelmed first-time filmmakers wish for nothing more than to simply get by. 

‘The Art of Getting By’ is released by Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment and stars Freddie Highmore, Emma Roberts, Michael Angarano, Rita Wilson and Blair Underwood. It was written and directed by Gavin Wiesen. It was released on Nov. 29, 2011. It is rated PG-13. staff writer Matt Fagerholm

Staff Writer

User Login

Free Giveaway Mailing


Advertisement on Twitter

archive Top Ten Discussions