Friday, June 17, 2011

The Art of Getting By

It hasn't been posted online yet - and it may never, to protect children - but I prepared a new self-portrait of myself for the "Contributors" page of this website. It's something I made in Photoshop Elements, my face pasted onto the famous portrait of "Pinhead," chief cenobite from the original HELLRAISER. Only instead of the movie title below the portrait it reads "Charles Cassady Jr." And under that a slightly doctored version of the original Clive Barker blurb, now declaring "He'll Tear Your Film Apart." Well, I thought it was clever at the time.

Am I really so cruel as to tear everybody’s film apart? Movies, even short ones, even bad ones, take loads of effort, blood sweat, tears, divorce, fights and love/hate to complete...Except for those Andy Warhol-art-film ones that just show a guy asleep or a tree growing for 12 hours, but even those probably had three or four union lawsuits behind them (and the tree, unable to handle pressures of fame, became a heroin addict and OD'd outside the Viper Room). What right do I have to blithely sum up and scornfully dismiss such travails?

Those thoughts occurred during THE ART OF GETTING BY, a fragile, sincere and awfully tear-uppable youth drama from director Gavin Weisen. The mopecore production is set in New York City, where George (Freddie Highmore), a sensitive but dispirited senior in an elite high school, is approaching crucial final exams with a bad case of existential blahs (we see him reading Camus, if you don't get it already). He cuts class, doesn't turn in any homework and consistently disappoints teachers who see potential in him. If he doesn't get his diploma, he's told by his mom and uptight stepdad, he'll have no future (my, how 2008; these days you get the diploma, you still have no future).

This being a movie, of course it’s art class that interests him the most (just what the economy needs, more aspiring artists), but George lacks motivation until he meets two sympathetic young peers, unpretentious painter Dustin (Michael Angarano) and intrigued upscale teen Sally (Emma Roberts). Though Sally likes to have casual sex, in emulation of her chic cougar-type mother, thoughtful virgin George interests her as maybe something deeper...if not now then later, after her world tour. George, who has no solid plan at all and calls Sally a "hussy" in anger (the PG-13 rating is conceivably too harsh, which is kinda cute), takes offense, in scenes that sometimes flow very nicely and easily and other times feel held back by written-cute dialogue sharpened at more Sundance workshops than is healthy.

It means well, it really does. The Leonard Cohen soundtrack music isn't nonstop, it just feels that way, and there are moments that really hit the mark. But overall the narrative just kind of coasts apathetically like its hero, with few dramatic highs or lows (and the segments that do hit extremes feel awfully forced). What's the point? Maybe just an affirmation to a certain segment of young, lonely, from broken-homes viewership out there who don't want to do their homework and disdain the rat-race up the social ladder that, yes, you are not alone. And don't worry, no matter how hopeless things look, you can find third-act love with a spectacular hottie.

I must tell you from experience, the latter doesn't happen, but aside from the dastardly false hope it raises, THE ART OF GETTING BY doesn't do any real harm. Seems a shame to tear this vulnerable little film apart, and I wish I didn't have the reputation to uphold as the Black Pope of Movie Hell. Check to see if the photo's up yet, and if not, use your imagination; Pinhead as a sadistic movie critic. If you know your HELLRAISER the quotes just write themselves on that one ("We have such sights to show you!"). 2 out of 4 stars.

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