"What's Next, Basquiat? (Whoa-Whoa-Whoa-Who-o)"
George (Freddie Highmore, the excellent kid from Finding Neverland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, practically grown up) is a senior at a tony prep school in New York, in danger of getting kicked out. He's depressed. Not because he's going to get suspended, but because he's coming to grips that life is short and nobody gets out alive. So, he doesn't pay attention in class, doesn't do any work and uses his books as doodle-canvas, some of which is not bad. His teachers (Jarlath Conroy, Ann Harada, Alicia Silverstone) know he's smart but are frustrated that he couldn't begin to apply himself. His principal (Blair Underwood) cuts him every break, but he just doesn't apply himself. "Life is meaningless," he tells a teacher when picking up assignments. "And that includes the homework, unfortunately."
He tells his mother (Rita Wilson) and step-father (Sam Robards) "I've got it under control," but it's just a delaying tactic. He's too smart for his own good, but like most students, he doesn't know what he doesn't know. That's where life comes in. But he won't get there, by being so insular, cut off from everybody.
After another stale-mate with the principal, he goes up to the roof to smoke, where Sally Howe (Emma Roberts) is smoking. A teacher comes up and George becomes Sally's knight-in-shining armor by pretending to be the one dragging. Later, she confronts him about why he did it. "I'm the teflon slacker," he says. "I'm more used to getting into trouble and I'm better at talking my way out of it." He and Sally become friends...then things get complicated.
They do, but they don't.
His failure to commit extends to their friendship, as well, and it's a little hard to determine why—maybe he's just not willing to apply himself, or maybe he has such a fear of failure (or a fear of success, where he could lose everything). But it's pretty clear that he'll take a "wait and see" attitude with everyone...and everything. He enjoys spending time with Sally, who's popular and a knock-out and seems to find him intriguing in that way that geek-writers think women are attracted to geeks. And she seems to want to "go there," but he's all "we're just friends" despite the time he spends with her when he'd normally be in his self-imposed solitary confinement. No wonder she sees other guys...which he thinks of as some kind of betrayal.
What does he think would happen?
That question, and so much of the film, is intriguing and keeps your interest, as long as there are no consequences to his actions. But, once they all start piling up, The Art of Getting By stops getting away with it. Then, it becomes frustrating (in about the same capacity as that "me stupid" feeling you get for delaying writing that term-paper for so long).* Then, writer-director Gavin Wiesen swerves in his little game of "chicken," in a wish-fulfilment fantasy that even Woody Allen, schlub-fantasist that he is, mocks when he sees it.
Wiesen casts his film well, and his direction of the actors shows he's not afraid to take risks.** And the screenplay shows promise. But, that ending is a big "Fail." Maybe it was imposed to get distribution, but, man.... Like the protagonist, there is so much potential there, that just gets wasted.
The Art of Getting By is a Rental.
* Notice, please, that this review is a bit late. Points off.
** Roberts is a heart-breaker, the teachers (even Alicia Silverstone) play tough with their characters, and props to anyone who hires Elizabeth Reaser and doesn't squander her talent (as the "Twilight" films do).
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
The Art of Getting By