'Art of Getting By': Actors breathe fresh anguish into hackneyed theme

McClatchy NewspapersJune 16, 2011 

Freddie Highmore plays George Zinavoy, a high school senior consumed with questions of life and death, and Emma Roberts is Sally Howe, the object of his affection.

MARK SCHAFER

  • MOVIE REVIEW

    'The Art of Getting By'

    PG-13 for sexual content, drinking. Fox Searchlight Pictures. 84 minutes. Hamburg.

The popularity of teen angst in TV and films has resulted in a steady stream of brooding young actors who walk lonely streets in long black coats, trying to emote dark feelings. Often they are so wooden that the scenes come across as trite. That's not the case with The Art of Getting By.

The film is loaded with teen-angst moments that have a more realistic feel because of superb performances by Freddie Highmore and Emma Roberts. Their acting resonates with such depth that the angst isn't a dark costume slipped over the actors but a deep feeling consumed and then sweated out through every pore.

Highmore plays George Zinavoy, a high school senior who sees homework as a trivial annoyance when compared to the larger concerns of living. He's so consumed with the topics of life and death that he has created a social bubble around himself. Sally Howe (Roberts) provides the first reason for George to look beyond his emotional barricades.

Teen-angst films often are comical, as with Charlie Bartlett, or melodramatic, as with Twilight. The Art of Getting By is more heartfelt. Newcomer director/writer Gavin Wiesen shows great maturity by having his actors play the angst in a realistic tone. That's what makes the deep emotional moments so strong.

Everyone is so confident of the strength of the performances, they don't hesitate to enter areas usually considered taboo for the genre. When Highmore cries, it's a nice contrast to the usual depictions of intense physical explosions or long passages of silence. It's refreshing to see such a natural reaction.

The film has a few script problems, especially a secondary story about George's parents. But when it focuses on the sweet, confusing, frustrating and truthful relationship between the central characters, The Art of Getting By shows that even a well-worn genre can be given new life.

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