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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: The Art of Getting By


The Art of Getting By (Two Stars)

U.S.: Gavin Wiesen, 2011

If you’ve ever been faced with a last minute must-do study cram for a class you’ve been skipping or ignoring, you have to be moved just a little by The Art of Getting By — a movie whose hero (hero?) George Zinavoy (Freddie Highmore), only a few weeks from graduation, is forced by his principal (Blair Underwood) to make up all the work he‘s been dodging all year, and, if he does, then maybe, maybe the principal will hand him his diploma. Maybe not.

On the other hand, are we really worried about George? Should we be? This movie, which marks the feature-making debut of writer-director Gavin Wiesen, is one more fairly literate, fairly smart, but not-too-interesting and not-very sympathetic look at the romantic and family travails of a young Manhattan outsider (George, of course), who, besides his academic mess, is also in love with the class stunner (Emma Roberts).

Those aren’t George’s only problems. Vivian and Jack, his mother and stepfather (played by Rita Wilson and Sam Robards, son of Jason), have money problems and relationship issues. At home, George acts like a little princeling jerk to them both. In school, he’s a loner, albeit a skilled semi-realist artist who puts more into his doodles than his life, but seems to be ignored by many of his classmates The exceptions: the bright trio of Zoe (Sasha Spielberg, daughter of Steven), Will (Marcus Carl Franklin) and Sally (Emma, daughter of Eric and niece of Julia).

The movie’s focus, obviously, is on Sally, a slim rebel with long hair and a saucy smile, who likes George’s, but who also obviously intimidates him, and who is also fancied by George‘s older artist friend Dustin (Michael Angarano), a straight shooter who does chic abstract paintings. The movie asks us — and it’s asking a lot really — to become involved with all George’s messes, most of which are his fault: his home life (which he ignores) his romantic life (which he sabotages), and his school career (which he has neglected for years). If he was funnier or less of a schnootz, we could take him. But all there really is to like about George is that he draws well (though he doesn’t seem all that connected to his art), and he’s good-looking in a Freddie Highmore sort of way.

But who cares? The Art of Getting By is fairly nice-looking itself and New York-y, and smarter than it seems, and its cast is mostly interesting. But it’s another of those indie New York-set movies that asks us to sympathize with self-indulgent kids who may not deserve our sympathy — and who don’t make us laugh enough or feel enough to compensate.

Wiesen’s movie seems somewhat autobiographical, mixed with a heavy dose of wish fulfillment fantasy — but let’s hope that‘s not so. (The autobiography, not the wish fulfillment.)

The three best performances in the film are from Roberts (provocative eyes), Angarano (appealingly scruffy) and Underwood (great presence), and the movie might have been more interesting if the last two were the antagonists. Roberts, fresh from Scream 4, plays a living doll and she is. Choosing between a last-minute study cram and a New York date with Sally wouldn’t be easy.

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One Response to “Wilmington on Movies: The Art of Getting By”

  1. darci says:

    I really liked this film, it reminded me a lot of a modern day Say Anything. It wasn’t quite as good, but still definitely stands out in this overcrowded genre.
    Can’t wait for the soundtrack, I think it had even had better songs than Nick & Nora, at the end when they played “The Trial of the Century” by French Kicks I almost cried! Also the Shins version of “We Will Become Silhouettes” was awesome, I think I like it as much as the original Postal Service version!


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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon