Fanboy Comics Contributor Ellen Tremiti shares her thoughts on another film from Sundance 2011.
Coming-of-age films have a tendency to skirt clichés and follow predictable character and plot arcs; however, if done right, a bildungsroman can still feel new, and it can evoke empathy from its audience. Unfortunately, The Art of Getting By (previously titled Homework) does none of these things. The select redeeming scenes and character performances are vastly overshadowed by the underwhelming plot. Sadly, the story gets caught up in cliché after cliché which builds to a predictable and unsatisfying outcome.
The film centers on high school senior George Zinavoy, played by Freddie Highmore (Yes, child actor Highmore, best known for Finding Neverland and the remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, is all grown up!). Zinavoy is an aspiring artist and slacker who challenges authority while simultaneously indulging in apathetic behavior towards all the people and circumstances surrounding him. He encounters fellow senior Sally Howe (Emma Roberts, Valentine’s Day) smoking during school hours, and the friendship – and crush – ignites. The issue here is that neither character comes off as complete. Zinavoy is kind of an outsider, but he also appears quite mainstream and vanilla. Sally is kind of damaged, but she also comes off as overprivileged and boring. They are both watered-down characters.
Zinavoy meets Dustin (Michael Angarano, Red State), an artist, who comes to his classroom to talk about, well, art. Dustin, at some point in time, attended Zinavoy’s high school, and he agreed to come and speak, despite his lack of interest in the event. Their mutual love of art and apathy brings them together and fosters a friendship. Dustin meets love interest Sally, which complicates matters. Angarano’s character is somewhat more intriguing than the others, but his interactions with Sally and Zinavoy are not pushed far enough. Their reactions to the conflict they find themselves in are too soft and unrealistic. Once again, their relationship appears watered down.
By the end of the film, Zinavoy must face all of the issues he has happily ignored before. This includes moderately well executed complications between his parents, but it also includes a down-to-the-wire assignment from his principal to get all of his missed homework in before graduation day. This assignment comes off as a contrived plot device to showcase Zinavoy’s growth as a character, and the clichés only get worse from there. Sally must make a choice between Dustin and Zinavoy, and right before she does, Zinavoy has an art piece he has been working on all semester to show her (and, by the by, it was really hard for him to decide what to paint). I’ll let you guess what the painting is of and whether or not it makes her want to be with him.
This film is akin to clichéd stories about authors who have writer’s block. It tries much too hard to find depth and ends up quite shallow. There’s a chance The Art of Getting By will appeal to a preteen/early teen audience, but its watered down dialogue, plot, and characters leave a lot to be desired. While not my least favorite Sundance movie, I have to say, you can go ahead and skip this one.
Ellen Tremiti is a Contributor for Fanboy Comics, an independent comic book publishing company based in Los Angeles, CA. For more interviews, blogs, and reviews by Ellen and the FBC staff, check out the Fanboy Comics website at FanboyComics.net or sign up for the e-newsletter, The Fanboy Scoop, by emailing email@example.com.