Kernel Rating (out of 5):
Length: 84 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Age Appropriate for: 13+; there’s some cursing, a few mildly implied sex scenes and some teen drinking and smoking, but it’s pretty tame for the most part. Some may be troubled by the main character’s nihilistic and fatalistic approach to life, but that theme fades fast.
Despite a “Dawson’s Creek”-inspired premise where teens use big words to try and capture all of their deep and dark feelings, ‘The Art of Getting By’ is ultimately a feel-good movie in which everyone is unexpectedly and unbelievably happy at the end. Begin your yawning whenever.
By Roxana Hadadi
Emma Roberts has recently been cultivating a career where she often plays a sly, self-absorbed, abnormally pretty teen girl who draws men in with her aloofness and mystery; eventually reveals some fragile inner core that makes her mistreat everyone; and still gets the guy to fall for her even though she’s actually pretty terrible. And I’m going to need her to stop that.
In “Valentine’s Day” in 2010, “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” later that year, “Scream 4” in April and her latest, “The Art of Getting By,” Roberts is just plain unlikable. With her Katie Holmes-like half-smile and vacantly pretty stare, she’s the embodiment of pop culture’s new teenage movie heroine: rich but disenchanted, privileged but disillusioned, standing for absolutely nothing but decked out in pricey outfits from Urban Outfitters. She’s again that role in “The Art of Getting By” — a film equal parts “Catcher in the Rye,” “Garden State” and “Pretty in Pink” that has infuriating character development and yet another unbelievably short-sighted conclusion that makes me despise how Hollywood wants audiences to view teenagers.
John Hughes ruled youth cinema in the ‘80s because he picked up on the relationships and lines between teenagers, their peers, their lovers and their parents, the tenuous ties that bind volatile adolescents to the pressures put on by themselves and the outside world. 1985’s “The Breakfast Club” was Hughes’s masterwork, obviously, because it delved deeper into why teenagers are who they are and why the decisions they make matter; the end was corny, but you could show that movie in every high school across the U.S. today and it would still resonate. 1984’s “Sixteen Candles” was sweet, 1986’s “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” was inspiring and 1986’s “Pretty in Pink” had the worst ending ever; in contrast, Cameron Crowe’s more realistic “Say Anything…,” which came out in 1989, was unclear in what happened to its characters but more honest because of it.
But while “The Art of Getting By” thinks it’s some epic love child of “The Breakfast Club” and “Say Anything…,” it’s really just the awful conclusion of “Pretty in Pink,” over and over again, for 84 minutes. The film starts off unconvincing and only grows more so, leading to a truly trite conclusion that should have had people booing in their seats. The people at the screening I attended were too nice for all that, but at least I knew the girl next to me shared my frustration when we both told people to stop clapping at the end of the movie. Good job, stranger! You should pursue a career in reviewing movies.
“The Art of Getting By” focuses on Roberts’ character, Sally, and her classmate George (Freddie Highmore); the two attend some elite New York City prep school but have never interacted before George takes the blame for Sally smoking a cigarette on the school roof. He’s a dedicated but lonely slacker who blames his lack of motivation on an Albert Camus-like recognition and awareness of impending death and the futility of life; she’s popular and stunning, with a clique of wealthy friends, but she takes an interest in George, who she often calls “weird” but seems to respect for his strangeness.
They cut class together, hang out after school and generally seem to be in a non-relationship relationship, a la Duckie and Andie from “Pretty in Pink,” but it’s George who would say the line, “I just want them to know that they didn’t break me.” Oops, except Sally does! Entranced by her beauty (and ignorant of her seeming inability to hold a conversation), George falls for Sally and her popularity, joining her group of friends but denying that he has any feelings for her. It’s only when his art mentor Dustin (Michael Angarano) expresses an interest in Sally that George considers going for it, but Sally is noncommittal. And by that time, his relationship with Sally isn’t George’s only problem: his mother’s relationship with his stepfather is breaking up; he hasn’t turned in any homework or assignments during all of senior year; and the idea of college, a job and a future seem woefully unattainable. Whatever is a boy to do?
Highmore is refreshing as a wayward waif of a teenager, one whose emotions are clearly outlined either through tears, vomit or an unexpected erection, and the film for the most part keeps him at an acceptable maturity level. His reactions to Sally’s world, from his first time drinking to his bemused conversations with her friends, are somewhat believable — but is it really possible that one guy could go to such a small school and be totally unnoticed by the rest of his class, or that the school administration would allow him to get in trouble so often without expelling him earlier on in the year? Those are small trifles, but they define the kind of unbelievable storyline at play here.
And that’s not even to speak of George’s and Sally’s relationship, which mimics “When Harry Met Sally” but without that film’s slow-building charm. Here the two teens dance around each other, one wholly empathetic and the other not at all, but still we’re supposed to cheer when they undeniably — of course you know how this will end, so it’s not really a spoiler — realize they’re the only ones for each other. Why would a character so perpetually downtrodden by another fully accept her love, even when she has essentially emotionally spit on him numerous times before? Who knows! It’s a teen love story, people! We’re supposed to eat it up and like it, no matter how bad it is.
But it is bad. Really, really bad. Highmore is adorable — and I suppose Roberts is good, too, for being so despicable — but “The Art of Getting By” is just another pandering teen romance, one that tells adolescents it’s OK to be measured by others’ opinions of you and not your own. The film is rated PG-13 for some mild cursing; underage drinking and smoking; and discussions about sex, the aforementioned (clothed) erection and a couple of lightly implied sex scenes, and should be fine for 13-year-olds and up.
What’s the ultimate payoff, though, when a film is so wildly obvious, so thoroughly unsurprising? At least “The Art of Getting By” is short — after 84 minutes, you’re free to go watch something better.