Making the Grades
If the future lies in the hands of the rising generation then The Art of Getting By presents a gloomy forecast. George Zinavoy (Freddie Highmore) is a senior in high school but how he got there is a mystery. The boy, who wears a dark trench coat and doodles in textbooks rather than reading them, hasn’t handed in an assignment for years.
As far as he is concerned, we’re all headed for death so why bother with something as trivial as homework. Yet despite his fatalistic attitude he has managed to advance through the school system. (That he has done so is a disturbing commentary on the educational process.) Finally with graduation only three weeks away, his teachers, who seem to believe he has potential, stage an intervention with the principal (Blair Underwood). George is given an ultimatum that would be impossible to accomplish under almost any circumstance—harder still for a teen who struggles to muster even a degree of motivation.
George’s only mild interest, besides his sketching, is Sally Howe (Emma Roberts). Luckily for him, she befriends the self-proclaimed misanthrope and invites him over to her house. If George thinks his mother (Rita Wilson) and stepfather (Sam Robards) have problems, Sally’s mother opens his eyes to a whole new level of dysfunctional parenting. Charlotte Howe’s (Elizabeth Reaser) main interest is men and she keeps her bed warm with a parade of them while searching for her next husband. As a result, Sally often assumes the adult role in the mother/daughter relationship.
For recreation, these teens and their friends (Sasha Spielberg, Marcus Carl Franklin) spend a lot of time in clubs or bars. And the movie contains frequent depictions of alcohol consumption by underage drinkers. Fortunately for George, Sally takes the lead from her mother and brings the drunken boy back to her room to sleep off the effects of too much liquor. While nothing more is exchanged than a few lustful looks, the scene includes some innuendo and a crude sexual joke.
Both Roberts and Highmore have grown up since their early film roles. (Roberts’ played in America’s Sweethearts, Aquamarine and Nancy Drew. A young Highmore starred in Two Brothers, Finding Neverland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and August Rush.) While the transition from child actor to adult roles often proves difficult in Hollywood, this pair seems to be making the move in this edgier storyline. However the challenges of relationships—parental, friendly and romantic—they deal with may be even more realistic among young adults.
In the movie, George prides himself on being the “Teflon Slacker”. He brushes off any efforts by others to engage him in school or even his art. He also claims to be resistant to drug regimes and therapy. While this laggard lifestyle may look charming to teens when played by the lanky and boyishly handsome Highmore, the film offers a highly unrealistic conclusion that would be hard for any “real” student to replicate.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Art of Getting By.
One scene shows a can of Red Bull, suggesting a student is using it to help him stay awake. What impact can these energy drinks have on teen health? What effect may this movie depiction have on viewers?
A fellow painter challenges George to produce something, saying that you can’t call yourself a painter if you don’t paint. Is it important to practice creative ventures in order to become better? What other goals do people have but often fail to act on? How many unwritten novels are there? What does George’s friend mean when he says he needs to exercise his muscles?
Is George’s fatalistic outlook justifiable in the story? How does his life experience compare with other teens in this movie? Do you think George suffers from true depression or feelings of futility? Where can kids who are depressed go for help?