The Art of Getting By (2011)

Rated PG-13. Our Ratings: V-4; L -1; S/N -1. Running time: 1 hour 24 min

Go to the ant, you lazybones;
consider its ways, and be wise.
Without having any chief
or officer or ruler,
it prepares its food in summer,
and gathers its sustenance in harvest.
How long will you lie there, O lazybones?
Proverbs 6:6-9a

Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun?
Ecclesiastes 1:2-3

George and Sally attend an exclusive Manhattan prep school.

© 2011 Fox Searchlight Films

So many films centering on teenagers are so saturated with sex and fart jokes that this Sundance film (origi nally titled Homework) seems weightier than it really is. In reference to the Seven Deadly Sins, it is not lust, but sloth that is the central quality of anti-hero George Zinavoy (Freddie Highmore). “Ennui” might be a better word, the high school senior having given upon life. He has a caring mother and stepfather who are able to send him to a prestigious private school where his teachers and principal also care for him. He is gifted with a great artistic ability, though in the eyes of his teachers he misuses it by using all of his textbooks as sketchpads. But life for him is devoid of meaning, hence, the problem that has landed him in trouble is his refusal to do any of his homework throughout his senior year.

He livens up a bit when he meets Sally (Emma Roberts), even rising to the principal’s challenge to complete all of his homework and papers in order to receive his diploma. But then writer/director Gavin Weisen sidetracks the story with an unlikely subplot in which the adult artist whom George has come to admire, enters into a romantic relationship with the teenaged girl, and… There so many other things in the film also hard to accept, such as the ease with which Sally and George can get into liquor-serving establishments and his mother’s seeming lack of concern as to the whereabouts of her son when he spends the night with Sally.

Other than a reference to the break-up of his father and mother and the former’s neglect of him, we are given little information as to why he is so down on life. It is certainly not due to neglect by the staff at his school, all of whom try to encourage him. Maybe all we can say about him is that, whether or not he has read Ecclesiastes (we do know that he has read Camus and goes to Francois Truffaut and listens to Leonard Cohen’s music), he has embibed too much of the Preacher’s sour take on life, without the saving grace of the Preacher’s words in the epilogue, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone.”