The Art of Getting By (2011) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • George, a lonely and fatalistic teen who has made it all the way to his senior year without ever having done a real day of work, is befriended by Sally, a popular but complicated girl who recognizes in him a kindred spirit.

  • Believing the quote that you are born alone, die alone and everything else is an illusion, George doesn't see the point of life, school, or homework. Then he meets Sally and he now has a reason to go to school and make friends, even if he's not ready to admit to himself or to her that he likes her. The school's principal and art teacher introduce him to an alumni, and successful artist, Dustin, who can help guide George along life's path, but other distractions start surfacing, and George might not even be able to graduate from high school.

  • A high school slacker forges an unlikely bond with the most popular girl in his class, and becomes an apprentice to an older artist after learning that his disdain for homework may cost him his diploma. George (Freddie Highmore) isn't what you'd call a people person, yet he's somehow managed to make it through high school with a minimal amount of effort. Meanwhile, Sally (Emma Roberts) is a natural-born beauty whose popularity helps to hide the fact that she's positively miserable at home. Brought together by their turbulent personal lives, Sally and George quickly discover that despite appearances, they actually have quite a bit in common. It all threatens to fall apart, though, when George learns that he may not be eligible for graduation. Desperate to escape high school by any means necessary, George attempts to learn some measure of self-discipline by working under Dustin, a successful 25-year-old artist who sees potential in the young misfit. Now, just as George begins to see the future as something to embrace rather than something to dread, his lazy past threatens to hinder his forward momentum.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • George (Freddie Highmore) is a fatalistic high school senior who is a gifted artist. George is often haunted by the realization that he will die someday. He ceases to complete his homework, as he feels that everything seems meaningless. As a result, he is put on academic probation. The next day, George goes up to the school roof and sees Sally (Emma Roberts) smoking. When a teacher comes up, George quickly pulls out a cigarette and takes the blame. Sally meets George to thank him, and though George is at first reluctant to talk to her, he soon warms up to her. On Career Day, George meets a young artist, Dustin and is inspired by his thoughts about life. He brings Sally with him to visit Dustin and it becomes apparent that Dustin likes Sally. Sally invites George to a New Years Eve party. At the party, she dances with her ex, while George gets drunk, puking outside before falling asleep in the alley. Sally finds him there and apologizes. For Valentine's Day, the two go out to dinner and Sally asks him to have sex with her. George, clearly shocked, doesn't answer. After his pause, Sally says they shouldn't as he is her only real friend. He is quiet for the rest of the time they're together and goes home early. He doesn't answer Sally's calls or talk with her at all. Sally instead invites Dustin out and flirts with him. The two of them start going on dates after Dustin kisses her. George doesnt do his English term paper and is brought to the principals office. The principal gives George two choices: expulsion or do every piece of undone homework, about a years worth. At home, George confronts his stepfather about lying about work, and they get into a physical fight. George takes off for Sallys place. She brings him into the hallway, where he kisses her. Sally kisses back but breaks it, revealing Dustin in her apartment. Angry and hurt, George leaves. The next morning, George finds his mother at the park. She explains that his stepfather lied to her about work and that theyre divorcing. George consoles her and begins to rethink his situation with Sally. At school, he gets each of his missing assignments to complete. His one art project is to make a painting that is honest and real. George completes the assignments and takes final exams, while Sally continues being with Dustin. Sally and George meet in a bar, where Sally reveals she's going backpacking with Dustin through Europe, and is skipping the high school graduation ceremony. George tells her he loves her and they go back to her apartment, where they kiss. Sally admits she loves him as well, promising that they will be together one day. George triumphantly turns in all his assignments and his art teacher applauds him on his art project. At the ceremony, Georges name is called and his mom is shown to be proud of him. George goes back to the art classroom and looks at his art project: Sally's smiling face. Sally, having opted not to go to Europe with Dustin, enters the room and looks at the painting with George and the film closes.

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