The Art of Getting By (2011)
Directed by: Gavin Wiesen | 85 minutes | drama | Actors: Freddie Highmore, Emma Roberts, Sasha Spielberg, Marcus Carl Franklin, Ann Dowd, Maya Ri Sanchez, Blair Underwood, Ann Harada, Rita Wilson, Jarlath Conroy, Elizabeth Reaser, Andrew Levitas, Sam Robards, Alicia Silverstone, Michael Angarano, Dan Leonard, Sophie Curtis, Lindsay-Elizabeth Hand, Scott O’Grady, Zoe Portanova, Sarah Seeds
Little boys grow up. For former child stars it is not easy to find a job at a later age. Some, such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, have experienced a very natural and successful transformation from child star to adult actor, but for others it is a hellish journey. It must have been quite frustrating for Macauley Culkin, for example, to see his younger brothers Kieran and Rory outrun him. We haven’t seen much of Haley Joel Osment after ‘Forrest Gump’ (1994) and ‘The Sixth Sense’ (1999) for example. Unfortunately, with talents such as River Phoenix, Brad Renfro and Corey Haim, it ended a lot more tragically. It is hoped for Freddie Highmore to keep his cool. The young Briton (1992) starred twice as a child alongside Johnny Depp, in ‘Finding Neverland’ (2004) and ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ (2005). After having focused entirely on his education for a few years (and not without success, judging by his final list full of good marks), he picks up acting again.
In ‘The Art of Getting By’ (2011), a coming-of-age drama by debutant Gavin Wiesen, Highmore plays George Zinavoy, a bored New York teenager modeled on Holden Caulfield, the main character of JD Salinger’s classic ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ which has become the archetype for searching teenagers. With his pale appearance and his long black coat, he is an odd one out at his Manhattan school, where greedy rich kids rule. George has serious motivation problems and refuses to do his homework. Because what’s the point of that: ‘you live alone, you die alone and everything that happens in between is an illusion’. His meeting with the beautiful and popular Sally (Emma Roberts) turns his life upside down. Thanks to her, the closed George comes into contact with other young people and is actually invited to parties. Though she knows deep down that George loves her, Sally refuses to see it. Instead, she adorns his mentor, the elderly artist Dustin (Michael Angarano), much to George’s chagrin, who sees his frail, newly acquired positivity rapidly crumbling.
In all likelihood, writer/director Gavin Wiesen has incorporated his own high school experiences into ‘The Art of Getting By’. Every high school has an odd character like George roaming around, but Wiesen approaches him as if he were the only one in the world who is like this. Because all sharp edges have been filed off and the film is devoid of all humor, George’s experiences remain on the dull side. Wiesen tries to spice things up a bit with a star-studded support cast (with Rita Wilson as his mother, Blair Underwood as the hip headmaster and a remarkably mushy Alicia Silverstone as an English teacher), but the film does not come to life. The biggest problem, besides the predictable lackluster scenario, seems to be Highmore’s miscasting. He is clearly doing his best, but is not convincing as a depressed teenager with motivational problems. Freddie is older and wiser, but he remains that little boy in too big a body. Tall, thin and pale. He doesn’t look exactly like the rebel George should be. It’s also completely illogical for Sally to take him under her wing: you’d almost think she’s doing it out of pity or to conduct a sadistic experiment on him, because sympathetic is different.
‘The Art of Getting By’ suffers from a weak and predictable scenario and goes nowhere in depth. The cast does its best with the flawed material that is presented to them, but unfortunately does not manage to take the film to a higher level. Freddie Highmore better put his energy into roles that better suit his timid image, because he really wasn’t born to be a rebel. The greatest assets of this debut by Gavin Wiesen are the setting (the film is not only set in New York, but was actually shot there) and the moody soundtrack. If you’re looking for a captivating coming-of-age drama about a teenager growing up in Manhattan, 2002’s ‘Igby Goes Down’ is a better choice.