Gavin Wiesen’s The Art of Getting By (2011) is a coming-of-age rom-com starring Freddie Highmore and Emma Roberts. The film follows George (Highmore), a teenage misanthrope who has never done a day’s work in his life. George is bright, but fails to see why he should bother with school, homework or any other form of work. One thing he does enjoy however is art, yet even this isn’t tempting enough to jolt him out of apathy until he draws the attention of the beautiful Sally (Roberts).
By the time he meets Sally, the school has threatened George with expulsion unless he completes an entire year’s worth of work in just under a month. From this point on, we see George struggling with motivation, his love life and the early hints that something at home is not quite right.
Coming-of-age films are often problematic; all too often they are full of tired clichés, cardboard ‘inspirational’, characters who face a challenge they must rise to the occasion for, often aided by an unrealistic older and ‘well-lived’ character who helps them triumph in the end.
This being said, there are some good films bracketed into this genre, including Gus Van Sant’s Good Will Hunting (1997) and Peter Weir’s Dead Poets Society (1989). It is between these two films that The Art of Getting By would rank.
Weisen’s film doesn’t quite escape many of the aforementioned clichés, yet it can be forgiven these indulgences because of its gentle and likeable manner. The film takes elements of the genre and makes them its own and, more importantly, it does it well. The result is a tremendously enjoyable drama that avoids the saccharin, and replaces it with a lightly melancholic sense of humour.
There is strong Jack Johnson/Jack Wills-wearing trendy edge to The Art of Getting By that will annoy many, yet it remains upfront and unashamed about what it is. The casting of Highmore helps greatly in this respect. Highmore’s George is an absorbing protagonist, and you quickly empathise with his quasi-autistic emotional spectrum, hoping that eventually he will find his way out of it.
The Art of Getting By chooses to portray its themes and subjects in both a moderate and realistic manner. The best example of this would be the film’s teenage cast; yes, we see them smoking, drinking and horny as hell, but they are actually shown as rounded individuals, not as simple American Pie-esque stereotypes.
The Art of Getting By is by no means hard-hitting, yet the film remains light, refreshing and enjoyable. It is well-shot, well-cast, well-directed and ultimately enjoyable, but more critical, cynical audiences may well feel unsatisfied.