The Art Of Getting By
If you had a time machine, when would you go, what would you do? 1492, when Columbus sailed that ocean blue? The Bay of Naples, AD 79, just in time to watch Vesuvius blow its top? How about Dealey Plaza, November 1963? Maybe nudge Lee Harvey’s (or whoever’s) arm just as he’s taking that fateful shot? Or maybe Trafalgar Square on VE Day 1945, the last time Britain faced the future with optimism?
Leaving aside the potential metaphysical consequences of changing time (Chaos Theory, the Butterfly Effect, etc) and totally ignoring the Novikov self-consistency principle, the million pound question, of course, is would you kill Hitler? Would you take the risk of changing the course of 20th century history on the off-chance that assassinating one of the world’s most evil dictators would have prevented World War 2? What if killing Hitler made things worse? Personally, I think you’d be doing the world a greater service by going back to around 1947 and pushing JD Salinger under a bus just before he wrote The Catcher In The Rye.
That one slim, hugely over-rated novel about a privileged, whiny, mopey, sexually ambiguous adolescent helped give birth to the notion of the teenager and has spawned a canon of self-indulgent scribbles about privileged, whiny, mopey adolescents, their crushing ennui, their frustration, their sense of alienation and their existential angst. Worse, it’s given birth to an entire genre of film typified by John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club where pretty, privileged, whiny, mopey adolescents bitch about the petit bourgeois futility of their lives. And there are few things more annoying and charmless than listening to a pretty teenager whine about how tough and empty their life is. Boo-hoo. Buy a helmet and get in the trenches with the rest of us you little twerp.
The debut feature by one-time whiny, privileged adolescent Gavin Wiesen, The Art Of Getting By is the latest film to chart the travails of being a privileged, whiny adolescent. Smart, under-achiever George (Freddie Highmore) is failing high school (mainly because he’s a lazy S.O.B who hasn’t done any work) but it’s ok, we, the audience, know he’s actually, like, really smart and super-sensitive coz, like, he reads Camus and draws cartoons and smokes wistfully by the lake while listening to Leonard Cohen and stuff. He falls in love with the cool, popular Sally (Emma Roberts) who’s also a bit mopey about life, comes out of his shell a little, gets his heart broken and eventually gets his act together while his parent’s marriage implodes and his kindly headmaster (Blair Underwood), kindly English teacher (Alicia Silverstone) and gruff but kindly art teacher (Jarlath Conroy) bend over backwards to accommodate his teenage angst bullsh*t.
As heroes go, George is a pretty passive one. His big act of rebellion isn’t to burn down the school, take a shed-load of drugs, commit suicide, discover masturbation or turn up one day with an assault rifle and mow down everyone in the cafeteria (you know, the things a real American teenager would do). No, his big act of rebellion is to not do his homework making him the illegitimate lovechild of Holden Caulfield and Bartleby the Scrivener.
The biggest problem with The Art Of Getting By, other than you’ve seen this story a thousand times and you’d really rather it ended with the hero going on a nihilistic kill-crazy rampage, is nothing much happens and nothing much is at stake. George’s big rival for Sally’s affections is a hipster artist, Dustin (Michael Angarano), who’s possibly less proactive than George but infinitely more sympathetic than him, principally because he’s not wallowing and whining about how awful life is. You’re never in much doubt that George will grow up and get the girl but you just don’t care.
As flat, pretentious and bland as its protagonist, The Art Of Getting By is an irritating exercise in upper middle class self-indulgence. You just know that writer/director Gavin Wiesen probably didn’t get laid until he was in college and has exercise books at home full of his own crappy cartoons.