© 2010 Ray Wong
Sometimes you've got to be wary of movie titles that are clichés, such as Going the Distance. Not to mention it's a romantic comedy starring Drew Barrymore. However, in this case, it's actually a pleasant surprise, clichéd or otherwise.
Garrett (Justin Long) works at a record label in New York City. After he's been dumped by his girlfriend (and for the umpteenth time since Garrett can't seem to know how to commit to a relationship), he goes out to a neighborhood bar with his best friends Box (Jason Sudeikis) and Dan (Charlie Day). He meets Erin (Drew Barrymore), a 31-year-old intern at the New York Sentinel. They immediately hit it off despite the fact that Erin will only be in New York for another six weeks before going back to Stanford to finish her graduate school. They decide to make their new relationship light and easy.
When Erin's inevitable departure comes, they realize they've fallen in love with each other. Unfortunately, there's no job for Erin in New York. They decide to give their long-distance relationship a go and see where it takes them. Over the next year, they see each other about every three months. Despite the distance and infrequent visits (other than daily phone calls and emails), absence does make the heart grow fonder. Erin desperately tries to return to New York, but the economy does not cooperate. Meanwhile, Garrett is having doubt about the viability of such a relationship.
Drew Barrymore (Everybody's Fine) has grown as an actress in recent years. In a way, she should step away from romantic comedies and do something more dramatic, such as her fantastic turn in Grey Gardens. Here, though, she has matured and is acting her age (instead of a cutesy ingenue). The material also allow her to be more adult and raunchy -- setting her free, so to speak. Justin Long (Taking Chances) has also come to his own and grown up. Long's range is rather limited, though, and he seems to play the same earnest, sweet guy-next-door type like Garrett. Long and Barrymore, who are real-life lovers, have good on-screen chemistry together.
While the leads are cute and earnest together, the supporting cast is really where the raunchy comedy is. Charlie Day (It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia) is hilarious as Garrett's roommate Dan, a perpetual loser who lives vicariously through his roommate's love life. Jason Sudeikis (The Bounty Hunter) is equally funny and crude as Box, another loser who likes older women because they are "easy." You rather wonder why Garrett, who seems to have no problem with getting lovers, would be close friends to these two clowns -- other than the fact that they're great comic reliefs.
Christina Applegate (The Rocker) plays Erin's uptight, germophobic sister who is not quite happy to be a suburban wife. The role fits her like a T. Ron Livingston (Dinner for Schmucks) has almost nothing to do -- the role is neither relevant or funny; I wonder if his part was originally bigger but they cut him out? Jim Gaffigan (17 Again) is funny as Erin's bored brother-in-law, and Oliver Jackson-Cohen (Bonekickers), as Erin's charming and handsome coworker, is a dead ringer for Jake Gyllenhaal.
Going the Distance is Geoff LaTulippe's first screenplay. It starts off following a familiar arc: boy meets girl, boy and girl falls for each other… But soon he deviates from the formula and gives us something more realistic and relevant and less fantastical. The issues Erin and Garrett face are real -- millions of people are struggling with long-distance relationships. Instead of giving us complicated plot twists, LaTulippe keeps it simple, and the story revolves around the lovers' geographical dilemma.
LaTulippe also takes the Judd Apatow road by being raunchy with the situations and dialogue. Much of the raunch comes from the sidekicks such as Garrett's friends or sexual situations that Erin and Garrett get themselves into. That frees the movie from getting dull and mundane. Still, if we focus on the lead characters, their relationship does seem rather dull and mundane, with an almost retro sweetness to it that is devoid of today's cynicism. In what year was this movie set? I mean, they play arcade games. They don't know how to do phone and Internet sex (hello, that's what a webcam is for). They laugh over a sneezing panda. There's just something unrealistic about their relationship even though their "issues" feel real.
Director Nanett Burstein (American Teen) manages to keep it real, most of the time. There's nothing fancy about her direction and she lets the actors work their magic. Still, she could tighten the pacing at various places, and the plot could pick up or trimmed. At 109 minutes, it feels long and could have been a 90-minute movie without losing anything. Burstein has a tendency to let her scenes linger and leaving nulls in the dialogue.
As is, Going the Distance is a sweet romantic comedy that tackles certain realistic issues, even though the central relationship feels a little off. As usual, the secondary characters are much more interesting than the leads. While the movie is pleasant, at times hilarious and raunchy, and the actors do their job well, it falls short of really going the distance.
Stars: Drew Barrymore, Justin Long, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Christina Applegate, Ron Livingston, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Jim Gaffigan
Director: Nanette Burstein
Writers: Geoff LaTulippe
Distributor: Warner Bros.
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content, language, drug use and nudity
Running Time: 109 minutes
Script – 7
Performance – 7
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 7
Production – 7
Total – 7.2 out of 10