Midtown Malaise: The Art of Getting By
Last Thursday I attended a free preview screening of The Art of Getting By. The film, written and directed by Gavin Wiesen, follows George (Freddy Highmore), a talented but nihilistic high school senior who is dangerously close to flunking out of school. We see him walk around Manhattan in his gray overcoat, reading The Stranger in the cafeteria, and falling for a classmate who may or may not be just a friend.
Nothing about this film is horrible, per se, but nothing really stands out either. It’s a coming of age story about how hard it can be to sit down and do your homework, and how you should never introduce your love interest (Emma Roberts) to your twenty-something Brooklynite painter mentor. Alex is not quite interesting or funny enough to truly root for, and his private school teachers give him so many chances I found myself wishing he would flunk out. With the film covering such well-worn ground (the dude next to me in the theater was reading Catcher in the Rye), the script doesn’t pack enough witty moments or unexpected twists to keep afloat.
Then there’s the soundtrack. When Alex hits the start-of-the-third-act difficulties, he resorts to staying in bed and listening to a Leonard Cohen song on repeat. Now at first this narrative quirk works (who hasn’t obsessively repeated a song to prolong a particularly foul mood?), but after this moment, the film cycles through several popular and wistful song choices. Since Scorsese pioneered the pop-music-in-movies trick in Mean Streets, the technique has served as either a crutch or an amplifier of moods. In The Art of Getting By, the use of songs fall more in the crutch category, as the Pavement song that accompanies Alex’s final moments (in the movie, not in his life), this reviewer felt like he was being bullied into feeling something that the film itself hadn’t earned.
So, all in all, strong cast, decent date flick, but by no means groundbreaking or a must-see.