I don’t mean to brag, but years and years ago I drove through New York during a family trip to Niagara Falls, so I know a thing or two about the excitement of the bustling city life. Ok, not really. Honestly, from what I have seen of it depicted on screen I live more in fear of the youth culture of this American city rather than jealously. Though The Art of Getting By falls into this category as well, it does manage to give the young characters enough heart to make them worthy of our sympathies.
The Art of Getting By plays out like an episode of Gossip Girl (at least one from the first season because I tuned out after that), with the unsupervised parties, free flowing supply of alcohol (seriously, does no one card?), and detached family life. However, our story is found in a teen who lies outside this society due to his simple lack of interest and different views on life.
As a self-proclaimed fatalist with a “what’s the point” mentality, George spends his life simply existing with no real will to hope for or work towards something more. If he had been played by a severe personality or a strong-jawed actor he could have easily become an annoying character whose “rebellious” nature would warrant cheering for his comeuppance in the end, but instead Freddie Highmore is cast in the role. As a child star who has won over audience members of all ages with his performances in films like Finding Neverland and August Rush, he manages to bring out the more likeable sides to this angsty teen, making him someone to cheer for even if it is not always easy to agree with his unwillingness to follow his role in society.
Then again, the hopeless romantic side of any viewer will make it just as easy to cheer for him. Emma Roberts plays his love interest Sally, a girl who is maybe a little too affected by the world around her. Each day brings about a new man to slink out of her mother’s bed as she returns home from school, and though she does not care for her mother’s way of life she already shows hints that she could easily turn to this path. Because of this George’s longing for a relationship with Sally often makes him seem like a weaker character as he deserves much better, especially when mouthing “whore” at Sally while she is on the screen. At the same time if viewing her as a wounded character searching for love while avoiding the potential pain of true love then it makes his longing a little more forgivable. After all, he is only human, and in the end it isn’t hard to want to belong. In other words, the connectability and likeability of these characters is all determined by the light they are perceived in.
As someone who found humor and some truth to George’s view of the world I was more than willing to follow the path his character takes. As a character who speaks with ease with the authority figures of his school (Blair Underwood deserving mention), wears a coat that dwarfs his frame, and is surrounded by young characters who always seem to meet up in bars for a bottle of beer, in the end the realization is made that maybe it is time to accept responsibility for his place in the world and grow up, out of necessity at least. And though the turn towards the Hollywood way of storytelling does not quite mesh well in the end, it would be hard for me to find fault in it.
Final Grade: B