Combustible Celluloid
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With: Freddie Highmore, Emma Roberts, Sasha Spielberg, Marcus Carl Franklin, Ann Dowd, Maya Ri Sanchez, Blair Underwood, Ann Harada, Rita Wilson, Jarlath Conroy, Elizabeth Reaser, Andrew Levitas, Sam Robards, Alicia Silverstone, Michael Angarano
Written by: Gavin Wiesen
Directed by: Gavin Wiesen
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements including sexual content, language, teen drinking and partying
Running Time: 84
Date: 01/23/2011

The Art of Getting By (2011)

2 Stars (out of 4)

No Ado About Nothing

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Written and directed by newcomer Gavin Wiesen, The Art of Getting By has a conundrum at its center. The main character begins the movie with some narration: he believes that we're born, we die, and in-between is nothing but an illusion. He also tries to convince us in the audience, as well as the other characters, that his viewpoint has validity. Therefore everything is a waste of time. Even watching this movie. (Note: the main character's narration is never heard again, which is one of my pet peeves about lazy filmmaking.)

So, if our hero George (Freddie Highmore) doesn't do anything or believe in anything, why are we here? Well, it turns out that he's a great artist; he likes to draw disturbing, detailed doodles. He's also very smart. He reads and understands Thomas Hardy, but doesn't like to do the homework. So... is he a misanthrope, or a hypocrite? Either way, he's not much fun to be around.

Of course, over the course of the movie, George learns how not to be these things; he learns how to want something, and he learns to fall in love with a very cute girl, Sally (Emma Roberts), whom he rescues in a very conventional way; he pretends that he was the one smoking on the rooftop. So now we have two problems: that we don't much like George, and that everything that happens in the movie happens due to the logic of movies, rather than life.

So many scenes are just duds, especially the ones that try to get two plot points across in one scene, one interrupting another. (This is another pet peeve of mine.) Characters never really talk; they speak dialogue at one another. Even the most emotional encounters feel scripted and planned, rather than heartfelt (such as the climactic reuniting of the two lovers).

The movie does come to life, briefly, when some of the adults register their irritation and frustration with the withdrawn youth. A high school principal (Blair Underwood), an English teacher (Alicia Silverstone) and an art teacher (Jarlath Conroy) seem to understand him; they know how smart and talented he is, but their patience has reached an end. They show anger, but also hope. (It's very odd to see Silverstone on the other side of the teacher's desk, given her signature role in Clueless.)

Director Wiesen scores further points with the movie's New York feel, which always adds a few extra layers of genuineness, no matter how flat the movie. In Wiesen's defense, this kind of movie is very difficult to do, and it requires the ability to vividly remember not only the events of one's childhood and teen years, but the emotions and sensations as well. Only a select few have ever been able to do this, though it doesn't stop so many others from trying.

Fox's new Blu-Ray release comes with a couple of brief featurettes, clips from the Fox Movie Channel, a trailer and a commentary track by director Wiesen.

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