Ever since the 1951 book The Catcher In the Rye, stories about angsty, alienated, financially secure (mostly male) teenagers in existential crisis over "what it all means" have become a staple of movies, TV and literature. It may be easy to dismiss this as the type of privileged first world problem you only have when you don't have real problems -- like finding clean drinking water, dying of preventable illness, or being accidentally killed in a pointless war. But there've also been some great movies in this genre, and one that turned out better than expected is The Art of Getting By, largely due to the performance of its star, Freddie Highmore, who plays George, a solitary teenager who believes that the inevitability of death makes life (and doing homework) meaningless, which might lead to him having to repeat his senior year at a private New York high school. But it's funny how a cute girl can change your outlook on life, which is what happens when George meets an alluring fellow student named Sally (Emma Roberts), who makes George think that maybe there really is something worth living for. Watch the trailer for The Art of Getting By below.
Sally becomes intrigued by George after he saves her from a run-in with a teacher. Though her motives are a bit murky, she strikes up a friendship with him, introducing the socially awkward George to her world of cool friends and stylish parties, while George teaches Sally the finer points of cutting class and inevitably falls for her. At the same time, George, who likes to draw, meets a painter named Dustin (Michael Angarano), a graduate from George's high school whose bohemian artist lifestyle in Brooklyn gives George a tantalizing glimpse of a potential future that could take him away from his home life, where he's grown apart from his mom (Rita Wilson) and bristles at his stepdad (Sam Robards). There's also the looming threat of George not graduating, when his principal (Blair Underwood) tells George that he'll be held back unless he finishes a year's worth of homework in three weeks.
So the stakes in The Art of Getting By aren't particularly high. The dialogue sometimes sounds like adult's words coming out of kids' mouths, and while the indie rock soundtrack has some good songs, there's so much music that the film often seems afraid of quiet moments. But what makes this movie work better than it should is Highmore, who brings a quiet sensitivity to a role that could easily come off as annoying, which is greatly helped by the fact that Highmore was finishing high school when the movie was shot and actually looks like a mopey teenager. Roberts also does a good job, displaying a maturity that contrasts well with George's adolescent awkwardness while showing the subtle effects of a childhood largely spent raising herself. Roberts has an accessible attractiveness that would make even a geeky kid feel like he had a chance with her, and the film uses its New York setting well, with an appealing, naturalistic, non-cliché look.
While George's journey to excise his existential angst might sound self-indulgent, that's kind of the point. After all, we're all self-obsessed as children, but when we reach adolescence, we're able to give that self-obsession meaning, when it's usually just selfishness masked by a half-baked philosophy. So George's story can really be seen as a teenager learning not to be selfish, which is a pretty cool idea. He has to learn that the people who are hassling him -- like his mom, principal and teachers -- are actually trying to help him, and that the inevitability of death doesn't mean that his life doesn't affect those around him. The title The Art of Getting By could refer to George's ability to skate through high school without doing any work, or maybe it's about what kids eventually need to learn on the way to adulthood -- that to get by in life, you need to get over yourself.
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The Art of Getting By
“Since the dawn of recorded history, something like 110 billion human beings have been born into this world. And not a single one of them made it. There are 6.8 billion people on the planet. Roughly 60 million of them die every year. 60 million people. That comes out to about 160,000 per day. I read this quote once when I was a kid, “We live alone, we die alone. Everything else is just an illusion. ” It used to keep me up at night. We all die alone. So, why am I supposed to spend my life working, sweating, struggling? For an illusion? Because no amount of friends, no girl, no assignments about conjugating the pluperfect or determining the square root of the hypotenuse is gonna help me avoid my fate. I have better things to do with my time.”
“I need to tell you something. You were right, in a way, I should’ve been able to say what I wanted to. I’m in love with you. I always have been. I thought you were the unfair one, but it was unfair of me not to say it. So I’ve said it. I was nothing. I felt like nothing. Less than. You changed it.”
“I actually felt something. That doesn’t always happen, it hasn’t happened in a very long time… and I have lived long enough to know that when it does, you should act on it.”
“You know we’re going to be together one day, we just have to sort through all of our messed up issues first, and you have a lot of girls to sleep with to get out of your system.”
“You’re going to have to start using that brain of yours to access that talent of yours to show that beautiful heart of yours.”
“There are so many more important things to think about, homework ends up seeming like an afterthought”
– The Art of Getting By
Unspoken words are like flower petals that peeled from where they belong or the drifting twigs that get washed away by the waves. They once held a life, they once held a meaning. Most of the time we lock them up in a little box and leave them to gather dust, when they could have been kicking lively on the tips of our tongues, waiting to be free. As if that’s not enough, we throw the key away, bury them deep underground, and wait till they decompose, till they cease to exist. The sad fact is that we don’t have complete control over what we do to them. And you know what’s even more heart-wrenching? Knowing their power to change our lives, yet not having the ability to seize that chance.
Posted in Books, Dramas, Movies and etc, Life, crap, and ramblings and tagged art of getting by, monologues, Movie, quotes
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