Going the Distance

Director: Nanette Burstein
Screenplay: Geoff LaTulippe
Stars: Drew Barrymore (Erin), Justin Long (Garrett), Charlie Day (Dan), Jason Sudeikis (Box), Christina Applegate (Corinne), Ron Livingston (Will), Oliver Jackson-Cohen (Damon), Jim Gaffigan (Phil), Natalie Morales (Brandy), Kelli Garner (Brianna), June Diane Raphael (Karen), Rob Riggle (Ron), Sarah Burns (Harper), Terry Beaver (Professor), Matt Servitto (Hugh)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 2010
Country: U.S.
Going the Distance
Going the DistanceAnyone who has ever been through the travails of a long-distance relationship will find something familiar in Going the Distance, a fashionably vulgar romantic comedy in which Drew Barrymore and Justin Long, who were involved in real life a few years ago, star as a pair of intelligent early-thirtysomethings who set out on a cross-continental romance. Barrymore’s Erin is a journalism graduate student at Stanford who meets Long’s Garrett while working a summer internship at a daily newspaper in New York, where he works for a music label. She is only there for six more weeks when they meet-cute at a bar over the classic video game Centipede (the first of many, many ’80s references), and their subsequent intoxicated one-night stand turns into something that neither can shake. They enter into the relationship with the full realization that they will soon be separated, and their attempts to keep it light and casual fail miserably, so much so that they decide to keep it rolling even after she is back on a plane to northern California.

Thus, like Sleepless in Seattle (1993), a film with which it otherwise has nothing in common, Going the Distance is a romance in which the principals spend much of their screen time apart, which gives first-time screenwriter Geoff LaTulippe plenty of room to fill with eclectic supporting characters. Garrett has his two best friends Dan (Charlie Day) and Box (Jason Sudeikis), both of whom are delightfully single and full of all kinds of great relationship advice for Garrett, the kind that can only come from guys who are not in and have no real desire to be in a relationship themselves. Long, Day, and Sudeikis have great bromance chemistry, and their scenes together have the tossed-off feeling of something completely improvised; theirs are generally the best scenes in the movie. Erin, on the hand, lives with her controlling older sister Corinne (Christina Applegate), her husband Phil (Jim Gaffigan), and their precocious little girl. Corrine is similarly full of advice, albeit from the perspective of someone for whom nothing ever seems to be quite good enough; Applegate plays perpetual annoyance as the character’s primary trait, and it’s no wonder that Garrett is terrified of her.

Unfortunately, LaTulippe’s script sometimes relies too heavily on the supporting cast and also leaves some strange possibilities dangling, such as a sequence in which Garrett’s boss (played by Ron Livingston) assigns him to work with an ear-numbing teen band in the Jonas Brothers mold, which would see to be the entry point into a work-related subplot, but it never develops. Similarly, the story introduces potential temptation for both Garrett and Erin in the form of attractive coworkers played by Kelli Garner and Oliver Jackson-Cohen, but there is never any real sense of danger. There is much more actual danger in their respective professions (the music industry and journalism), both of which are in a state of massive transition made all the more perilous in a weak economy, giving the film a modicum of topicality that will likely diminish in subsequent years.

Garrett and Erin are united from time to time when he flies out to see her or she flies out to see him, but strangely the sequences in which they share screen time are not as good as when they’re separated, which lets some of the air out of their romance. We want to see it work out for them because that’s what the story dictates, and even when things seem to be going downhill it’s hard not to suspect that it will all work out in the end (this is why last year’s 500 Days of Summer was such a moving, remarkable rom-com: It was honest about the possibility of things not working out, but still made you feel the love). Long and Barrymore, both of whom have a genial, likeable screen presence (although Barrymore does try to push the “cute” factor a bit too much at times), have their own unique chemistry, some of which may be accentuated in the mind of the viewer who knows their off-screen past. Director Nanette Burstein, who has previously helmed the documentaries The Kid Stays in the Picture (2004) and American Teen (2008), has a good ear for dialogue and the way people interact, and while some of her visual choices are overly cutesy (I could have done without the animated sequences depicting Garrett and Erin traveling back and forth), she maintain a relatively good handle on the always important balance of they raunchy and the sweet.

Copyright ©2010 James Kendrick

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Overall Rating: (2.5)

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