Yesterday was a day of existence, I’m sure most of you know what I’m talking about. A day of not living so much as staying in your pajamas (or a black cami and matching palazzo pants in my case,) watching TV, and idly watching facebook, waiting for one of your “friends” to post something mildly interesting. Or, on second thought, maybe not, for if they post an album of pictures they took at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival or a status about the crazy thing another friend said while they were out on the town, it might remind you of the mundane nature of your own life, or should I say, existence.
Yes, yesterday was one of those days, and as much as I felt the obligation to do something about it, I just could not bring myself to get off the couch. I could not until my brother had the idea of taking my mother, himself, and me to see the movie The Art of Getting By.
Judging from the trailer, (the songs on the trailer are, in order, Peter, Bjorn, and John- Second Chance, Win Win- Victim, and French Kicks- Trial of the Century, by the way. They’re great songs, check them out,) I figured that I wouldn’t be astounded by the movie itself. The story is not an original one. Artistic, fatalist boy meets quirky girl who doesn’t play by the rules. They skip school together, he falls for her, are they just friends, or something more? Certainly haven’t heard that question before. Neither have we seen the plot twister of the girl, Sally, falling briefly for the boy, George’s, best friend, or in this case, mentor, Dustin, an older artist. And as all of this is going on, both Sally and George’s families are facing struggles and drifting apart, and George is on the bad side of the school he goes to. Once again, a burst of creative originality on the writer’s part. However will the story end? You guessed it: George and Sally end up together, George’s mother divorces the evil stepfather, and through a miraculous burst of focus, George completes a year’s worth of homework in three weeks and graduates. All in all, the happy ending all of us were expecting.
Despite my sarcasm, you all might be surprised to hear that I actual enjoyed this movie quite a bit. Yes, the storyline is not a new one, and it has the potential to be full of clichés, but the beauty of Getting By is its simplicity and realism, in all aspects of the film. It was shot in a simplistic style with little music to fill the background, which to be sure are redeeming qualities to a film nerd such as myself, but the realism really starts to tie in with the simplicity when it comes to the characters.
As a teen growing up in the city, the most apparent way in which I can relate to the characters in this film is how they smoke and drink. Not that they smoke and drink, but how. As I enter my sophomore year of high school (very much sober, I’ll add), hearing a story of a party unremembered is common, and I hardly react when my friend tries to bum a cigarette off a passerby. It’s not a tragic loss of innocence, it’s life. Especially in the city, I think, these vices are present in the lives of most teens as well as adults. Getting By portrays this very well. Never is there a moment of devil-like peers beckoning the angelic protagonist to take his first shot. Instead, Sally and George meet when he takes the rap for smoking on campus, even though they were both lighting up. This type of moment happens just frequently enough in Getting By to make it real, even if it isn’t always “pretty”.
At the beginning of the film, George is approached by his trigonometry teacher, her hand outstretched, expecting his homework to be placed in it. In all honesty, he tells her that although he tried doing it, he was experiencing a time where he found everything meaningless, including the assignment, unfortunately. She interprets this response, possibly aided by the giggles of his peers, as a form of disrespect, and she reprimands him and tells him he must go to the principal’s office and finish his work by the end of the period. It’s moments like this that display how beautifully Getting By approaches teen angst.
Teen angst is Hollywood’s favorite seasoning, it’s secret ingredient for making the perfect teen film. Remember John Bender, from the Breakfast Club? Or, more recently, fantasy’s favorite couple, Edward and Bella? Tortured teens pop up in lots of movies, but how many of them are relatable? While Bender garners admiration and attention for his sheer bad-assery, how many of us have one at our school? His angst is dramatic, angry, and rebellious, the type of angst few teens have the courage to act on, if nothing else. After disregarding the fact that they are vampires (a quality that NO teen possesses, however much they want to), Edward, with his brooding, somewhat narcissistic self-deprecation and Bella, who is insecure as well as angty, despite the fact that she is being fought over by two beautiful men and being protected by a family of human ideals, garner the response of GET OVER YOURSELF. Very few teenagers are angsty enough to just flat out not talk to people.
So what makes Getting By special? I think it’s the understated doubt and the worries that remain in the back of the mind, shared with few, that so many teenagers can really relate to that are the central point of the film. It’s the two individuals that find a kindred spirit in the other because they feel out of place at their school, and feel comfortable enough to confide in one another because they feel understood. That’s real angst, and it has nothing to do with sneaking out of Saturday detention.
In conclusion (FINALLY, I’m sure some of you are thinking), go see this movie, especially if you know and/or love a teen. It’s not going to win an Oscar, it will probably be washed away into the seas of forgotten films, but only because it’s not so much a story as a portrait of teenage life today, a snapshot of life in the city for us. That’s my opinion, anyway.