When it played Sundance earlier this year, this film went by the name Homework. I am not sure if the name change was the only change or if it underwent any other edit in the wake of its distribution deal, but I can say that the new title is certainly an improvement. Don't you think The Art of Getting By sounds better? The original name makes it sound like some lame MTV Films production, whereas the final title makes it appear more like the quirky indie it is. It also sounds like it would make a great double feature with It's Kind of a Funny Story (which, coincidentally, also co-stars Emma Roberts). Both are populated with quirky characters and a central character trying to deal with the world around him in angsty, indie fashion.
Freddie Highmore stars as George. George has issues; he spends a lot of time grappling with mortality and the pointlessness of everything. It makes me feel a little conflicted. On one hand there was something strangely affecting about the youth's fatalistic angst expressed through art without meaning (he is always drawing something, but never has anything to say); however, the enjoyment was counterbalanced by the feeling that this was little more than indie shorthand, collecting many of the tropes, quirks, and affectations of other teen-centric indies while not really offering anything of itself.
Do you know what I mean? It is as if the writer/director took all of the indie elements that have influenced him over the years and after a slight period of fermentation have spat them back out into one project. It approaches the border of being too much. Fortunately, it never flows over the dam, leaving the movie to play on its own terms, not exactly a realistic journey, but one that has interesting moments to make you ponder your own reality.
The Art of Getting By focuses on George (Highmore), a too-smart-for-school senior suffering from fatalistic depression brought on by the realization that everyone dies, and that life has little point, considering the inevitability of death (such happy thoughts). On top of that, his mother and stepfather are having money issues, and he is in danger of not graduating because he stopped doing his school work in the face of his soul-crushing mortality. Pretty much all he is able to do is draw and sketch in whatever he happens to have at hand, but nothing is good enough for him, no heart, no soul. Nothing seems to carry any meaning for him, so why bother?