Yesterday, since my house was completely empty, I decided to do a double-feature of back-to-back Blu-rays for review. It's easy to write when the kids are around, but it's nearly impossible to watch something when they're home. First, I watched 'Tanner Hall.' Then I made myself a quick bite to eat and dove right into 'The Art of Getting By.' Boy, was that a terrible decision – two coming-of-age movies in a row. 'Tanner Hall' was mediocre, but it seems like gold compared to 'The Art of Getting By' - which I thought was a "C+" film after catching a press screening over the summer, but upon trudging through it a second time, I came to the conclusion that it's a downright awful film.
I first read about the movie while selecting what to screen at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. Back then it went by the non-descriptive title 'Homework.' Considering that the former title is just as generic as the movie itself, it may have been perfectly suitable. But for its small theatrical release, Fox Searchlight gave it the barely more descriptive title 'The Art of Getting By.'
Freddie Highmore, the once-cute kid from 'Finding Neverland' and 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,' is now an awkward teenager. He tries to hide his British accent as the American lead in 'The Art of Getting By,' George – a self-proclaimed loner who talks like a 60-year-old poet. George is a hipster punk. The movie opens with his existential voice-over narration rant about how not a single one of the six-point-something billion people on the planet has discovered how to not die. His new fear of death has left him so depressed that he doesn't do his homework and has no regard for anyone but himself. He's rude to everyone watching out for him - his mother, stepfather and teachers. Self-absorbed George wants everything handed to him without having to do anything to get it. Had 'The Art of Getting By' begun with George being a punk and ended with him realizing and correcting his flaw, it would acceptable – but instead it reinforces this ignorant train of thought. The deeper you get into the movie, the worse it gets.
Lanky and awkward George meets a cute new girl, Sally (Emma Roberts), and they form a friendship. Although it's completely evident that they both have romantic feelings towards one another, neither is willing to admit in and act on it. Heaven forbid these two highly emotional kids express those emotions to one another – then we wouldn't have a story on our hands. The whole movie is wasted on this "are they going to end up together or aren't they going to end up together" dynamic. But because both of these characters are utterly selfish, we don't really care either way. In an attempt to add just a little more teen drama to the plot, they throw in another tortured artist character (Michael Angarano) to compete with George for Sally's affection.
Perhaps 'The Art of Getting By' would be easier to connect with had it been grounded in an entirely believable reality. In their world, teachers can shove students and swear like sailors without any problems. These high school age kids smoke and drink and get into bars and raves with ease.
Much like a Diablo Cody movie, everyone in 'The Art of Getting By' relentlessly tries acting "cool" – only Cody nails the douchey hipster dialog and 'The Art of Getting By' fails. Consequentially, each cast member (with the exception of Blair Underwood) fights to be the coolest thing on screen. The teenagers act like normal people and the adults are uptight scenery-chomping caricatures who act irrational.
Even though Emma Roberts' star is currently shining, she's nothing special in 'The Art of Getting By.' Poor nearly-grown-up Freddie Highmore is on the road to becoming the next forgotten kid star. That might change once he's through puberty, but in 'The Art of Getting By' he's unconvincing. All the dialog he spouts out sounds utterly rehearsed. He's only capable to two facial expressions: unhappy and confused, causing his emotionless face to take away the gravity of the heavily dramatic material.
Considering the attitudes of the characters and the morals (or lack thereof) of the story, 'The Art of Getting By' comes across as an anti-coming-of-age story. It reinforces a terrible mindset. At the end of the day, the parents are wrong and their kids are right. If you merely want to "get by" in life, follow the examples of George and Sally. You don't have to lift a finger or put forth an effort if you don't want to. Make all the mistakes you want and as long as you eventually apologize and fix them, life will be grand. Everything will be handed to you. Don't mind those you hurt along the way, they'll get back up on their own.
If anything, 'The Art of Getting By' is the coming-of-age film you don't want your children to become inspired by.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Fox Searchlight has placed 'The Art of Getting By' on a Region A-locked BD-25 in a standard eco-friendly blue keepcase. Aside from the 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment vanity reel, you can skip your way through all of the pre-menu trailers for 'The Descendants,' 'Another Earth' and Fox World Cinema's new promo reel.< /p>
'The Art of Getting By' is presented with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 video transfer in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio. The video quality would be noteworthy had the camera been focused for the majority of the shoot.
When the Fox Searchlight intro rolls at the opening of the film, it's awesome to see how clear, detailed and deep the image looks. The palm trees over the Hollywood city streets appear to be 3D. But going from seeing this top-notch video quality to the mediocre filmmaking of 'The Art of Getting By' only makes the video quality of the film itself seem flat.
The details within each frame are sharp and defined, it's just a shame that the camera is never in focus with the actors. Instead of seeing our actors in this high detail, we see the objects a few feet in front or behind them in perfect clarity. Oil paintings play a large part in this film, yet not a single close-up of a painting reveals its bumpy texture because they're never in focus. There's no dirt, grime or scratches getting in the way of showing us our blurry leads. Edge enhancement, artifacts and aliasing are absent, but banding appears several times throughout a one-minute sequence with a drunken George as the scenes fade in and out of black as if we're seeing things through his heavy eyelids.
The color palette varies in different locations - cold and bleak on school grounds and abnormally colored on the New York City streets. According to 'The Art of Getting By,' New York's street lights are red, green, an, the industry favorite, teal. Colors aren't exactly eye-catching or vibrant, but their purpose is to create a mood, letting you know that George feels more at home on the streets than he does with his mom and step-dad. Black levels are deep, but low contrast causes details to become lost within the overwhelmingly dark shadows and clothes.
'The Art of Getting By' offers an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track and an 5.1 English Descriptive Audio Dolby Digital track. While the audio quality is better than that of the video, it isn't quite the demo-quality audio we hope for and expect from new titles.
With New York City playing a character in the film, the use of the ambient street sound throughout the channels really brings it to life. Whenever outdoors, the subtle city sounds emitting from all around the room make it a reality. Living only a few blocks away from my local firehouse, there was one instance while watching the film where the sounds of wailing sirens in the distance made me believe they were coming from outside the house. I had to pause the film to tell if they were in the movie or part of the real world.
Aside from those ambient city scenes, the rear channels are rarely utilized – not even with the use of music. Overall, the lossless track also lacks bass. When George and Sally get wasted at a New Year's Eve warehouse rave, the should-be thumping techno music is almost entirely bass-less. Although you'd think the bustling cars in the busy city streets would provide plenty of opportunity for dynamic sounds of cars passing through your theater, it never does. All in all, the audio is more on the underwhelming side.
'The Art of Getting By' is not only bad by coming-of-age standards, but it's a bad movie in general. Absolutely every element in it has been used before, giving the film a familiar feel and certain predictability. The performances are mediocre at best, with many of the stereotypical side-characters negatively chewing up scenery. 'The Art of Getting By' is a mediocre film that sticks to cliches to help it merely "get by." There's nothing unique or original to be found within it. It feels like a knock-off of a hipster Diablo Cody movie – without style or grace, everyone and everything is trying too hard to be "cool." The picture quality is sharp and clear, only it's the foreground and background that are shown in great detail because the actors are never in focus. The sound quality is just fine, but could definitely use a movie worthy of its strong mix.