Writer: Gavin Wiesen
Stars: Freddie Highmore, Emma Roberts and Michael Angarano
Release Date: Friday 2nd of September
Regular readers of The Daily Update.ie might recall that Final Destination was the first and only horror film to freak me out. It should be very telling then, that at one point while watching The Art of Getting By, I was hoping that Death might be kind to me and bring a ceiling light fixture crashing down on my head.
Did that come off as a little melodramatic? I’m sorry — that’s probably an after effect of watching this film.
The film opens with George Zinavoy (Finding Neverland‘s Freddie Highmore), an uninterested, unmotivated, private school student who prefers to doodle all over his textbooks to contributing to class. Freddie is a fatalist — someone so aware of his own mortality that he does not try in life. He shuns friends, family and any productivity until his eye is caught by popular student Sally Howe (Wild Child‘s Emma Roberts or “she with the famous aunt and no discernible acting ability”.) Some sort of story follows, involving romantic feelings, an artistic mentor, marital discord and breakdowns, and finding yourself through another person.
The biggest problem was that I just didn’t care. The Art of Getting By fancies itself as a bit of a Catcher in the Rye story for a new generation (it’s not). It tries to be deep, profound and indie (it fails). It pretends to say something about a lot of emotional issues and fails to manage to sum up one in any meaningful way.
George is no Holden Caulfield. A brat with a bad attitude, lack of respect and a propensity for torturous (to the audience) teenage angst, he’s less an unwilling hero of the piece and more of a excruciatingly annoying, misbehaving teenager. In one scene where he argues with his stepfather, who is set up to be a bit of a villain, your sympathy goes to the villain. You root for him to knock some sense into the petulant child. Freddie Highmore, who was a promising child actor, never manages to be anything other than irritating. Moreover, neither does the story.
This is the first film in quite some time where I can remember being irritated from start to finish while watching. There is no emotional arc to the story, much as it tries to invent one, and no likeable characters at all. The acting is uneven and at times cringeworthy; it’s hardly surprising given how weak and unnatural the dialogue is throughout.
Besides Highmore, Emma Roberts is no great revelation and plays her usual irksome self throughout. Her character’s backstory is ho-hum and her emotional difficulties, like George’s, are hard to sympathise with or care about. Every time one of either’s problems was introduced, the phrase “white people’s problems” and the sarcastic website dedicated to the same, kept popping into my head.
The cast of this film is wasted. I was surprised to see Blair Underwood, Alicia Silverstone and Rita Wilson as George’s principal, teacher and mother respectively. I was less surprised to see they were given nothing to do, other than to play to the stereotypes of their characters.
I’m sure some people will like this film. For fans of the Twilight franchise or recent tween Disney movies, this will seem like a moving and profound look at teenage romance, loneliness and friendship. For everyone else though, do yourself a favour, do something more enjoyable instead… like watching paint dry or getting a tooth pulled.
1/2 star out of 5*
*and that’s only for the soundtrack, which includes The Shins and Leonard Cohen.