Originally published in The Daily Free Press on June 24, 2011
Critics rarely have the opportunity to adorably synthesize their opinion of a film by merely citing the movie’s very title.
Yet, The Art of Getting By is, irrefutably, a practice in the art of getting by. Starring Hollywood’s Freddie Highmore and Emma Roberts as George and Sally, but also featuring dispassionate acting, stiff dialogue and unanswered questions, Art exemplifies the mediocrity Hollywood has coached us to enjoy. It seems lazy and uninspired films continue squeak by executives as long as they’re encrusted with Hollywood sparkle.
Beginning with a strong conflict, a fatalistic high school senior (Highmore) who finds schoolwork too trivial to complete, Art promises an unusually philosophical examination of adolescence. Yet, this thoughtful reflection dissolves within 20 minutes and evolves into a clichéd Hollywood pursuit of Roberts’ love.
Even after this major plot transition, Art continues to be inconsistent. The financial insecurity of George’s parents and the promiscuity of Sally’s mother are subplot lines that weave in and out of the film arbitrarily and never fully establish themselves. The underage teens’ ability to obtain alcohol at every NYC restaurant they enter leaves even more questions unanswered.
Yet, the erratic plotlines aren’t Art’s greatest weakness. Vapid dialogue dominates the entire script, making most of the conversations sound unnatural.
The utterly lifeless acting of Highmore and Roberts only exacerbates the awkwardness. While Roberts’ monotone delivery is somewhat understandable due to her Nickelodeon training, Highmore’s performance is particularly frustrating because he’s had the opportunity to learn from greats Johnny Depp, Robin Williams and Nicole Kidman. In Art, Highmore continues to emote through minute facial movements, which connoted naivety when he portrayed young children, but now just suggest incompetence.
It is so irritating when Hollywood shells out millions on second-rate films that had the potential to be valuable for more than just their NYC settings (which is Art’s only redeeming feature). Still, such films are continually made. Hollywood has perfected the art of making promising mediocrity – the art of getting by.