A film review by Craig J. Koban September 17, 2010


2010, R, 95 mins.

Drew Barrymore: Erin / Justin Long: Garrett / Charlie Day: Dan / Jason Sudeikis: Box / Christina Applegate: Corinne / Jim Gaffigan: Phil / Kelli Garner: Brianna

Directed by Nanette Burstein / written by Geoff LaTulippe

Can a young couple’s love survive great distances and a brutal economic recession?  

That’s the central dilemma posed by the new romcom GOING THE DISTANCE, which involves two people that are plagued by being in professions that are not in high demand and, as a result, find themselves unavoidably living nearly a whole country away from each other.  The film follows the formulas and mechanisms of almost every romcom that has preceded it (we have the obligatory meet-cute, the courtship, the blossoming romance, the obstacles that get in the way, the break up, and finally the pre-end credits reconciliation), but the film modestly succeeds by having a pair of appealing lead actors that we grow to like and yearn to see in a “happily ever after” conclusion.     

The actors in question are played by Justin Long and Drew Barrymore, who were a real life couple, which might explain why they have a sort of unforced and natural charisma and chemistry that works wonders here over the film’s somewhat tired conventions.  What they do is not easy: They are able to evoke both the pleasant and frustrating daily tempo of a relationship – both of the close quartered and cross-country variety – and they also bring an emotional authenticity to their respective parts.  Long is an actor that I have appreciated for his subtle, laid back comedic edge and wit– he never grasps too hard for a laugh – but Barrymore here in particular has never been more naturally raw and loose in a romantic film role.  She almost kind of reinvents her whole popular image of the types of sunny and rosy personalities that have dominated her past romcoms.  In GOING THE DISTANCE she inhabits a hard drinking, bong smoking, and f-bomb unleashing female that is equal parts adorable and crude, which gives her and the film around her more of an edge that I was expecting.   

Barrymore plays Erin, a woman cruising into her thirties in desperate search for a career and a life.  She is just finishing an internship at the financially struggling New York Sentinel and has high ambitions to score a big job as a reporter there when her placement has concluded.  Unfortunately, the harsh economic realties of the times – and the fact that print media is on a disastrous downward spiral – makes her chances of being hired slim to none.  She ultimately decides to lay low for the last few weeks of her internship, not wanting to form any serious ties to New York, largely because she will be moving back home to California afterwards. 

Things get complicated for Erin with the appearance of Garrett (Long) in her life, a somewhat hapless, but noble minded romantic that has just capsized his own relationship with a girl after a horrible birthday supper.  They have the standard order meet-cute early in the film in a somewhat unlikely place: near an old-school “Centipede” arcade machine at a bar.  Although things do not go winningly at first for the pair – he accidentally sabotages a record high score for her in the game...sacrilege! – the two reconcile and begin to enjoy each others company during the evening.  They then retire to back to his trashy apartment where, among other things, they discover a mutual passion for Tom Cruise and TOP GUN.  I dunno, but if my hopeful future girlfriend saw Tom Cruise posters all over my bedroom walls, then I am positive that her gay-dar would certainly go off, but I digress.  A funny moment ensues when, just before their first kiss, "Take My Breath Away” blares on the soundtrack, but it’s not the film engaging in sly reverencing; it’s Garret’s nosey roommate (Charlie Day) playing it through their paper thin walls.  Cute. 

Both Erin and Garrett proceed on an enjoyable short-term relationship while confessing to the other that they are not looking for anything “serious” or long term.  Unfortunately, it’s painfully difficult for both to admit that they are in love with one another, especially during one awkward exchange at the airport during Erin’s last day in The Big Apple.  They make a solemn promise to each other at that time: they will still “be together”, but in a long distance relationship, which they know will be excruciatingly problematic, but their love, they feel, will overcome those concerns.  After a tearful parting of ways, Erin moves back in with her sister (a snarky and funny Christina Applegate) and her family back in California while Garrett goes back to his dreaded job of working for a middle-tier record label that he feels is sucking the life right out of him. 

Erin and Garrett do manage to stay in touch with one another as much as possible, through the phone, text messages, web cams, and the occasional visit (and I do mean occasional; airline fares ain;t cheap, especially across the country).  The remainder of the film chronicles how the two find ways to stay in touch while being 3000 miles apart, even when they both know, but are unwilling to reveal to the other, that long distance relationships never seem to work well (relationships require proximity and intimacy, and both are impossible when you’re three time zones apart).  Things get even more complicated when both make failed attempts to move to each other’s respective cities.  Garrett tries to get on with a record label in California and Erin tries to score a job back at The Sentinel, but the recession has made their professions nearly obsolete.  They grow to the realization that one will have to move to ensure the continuation of their love, but when Erin receives a lucrative offer from a Californian paper – and Garrett does not seem willing to move away from New York – their relationship seems to be running out of gas. 

GOING THE DISTANCE was directed by Nanette Burstein, who has specialized in documentaries up until this point (she made the wonderful THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE about film producer Robert Evans, which made my Top Ten list of its year), so segueing into romantic comedies is a interesting career choice for her.  Although I am not entirely convinced that she has the knack for pulling off the tricky Judd Apatow dichotomy between off-the-wall raunch and crudeness with heart warming sentimentality (at times, GOING THE DISTANCE’s blue language and scatological conversations feels kind of forced), she nonetheless succeeds at crafting a credible pair of on-screen lovers in Barrymore and Long.  Burstein and her writer, Geoff LaTulippe, keeps the banter between the pair loose and causal, which manages to create a real emotional veracity to the film.  Even though the film’s potty mouthed-riddled dialogue feels, at times, unnatural and strained, I will concede that, for once, it’s truly nice to see women be unrefined and coarse in a genre that is usually populated by cheery, polite minded, and earnest women.  The film sort of rightfully captures the kind of unthinkable and unspoken things that are said between women, but just not in PG-13 comedies. 

The film’s attempts at comedy are a decided mixed bag.  I did, however, especially like the recurring gag of Charlie Day’s roommate eavesdropping on Erin and Garrett and providing an 80’s fused soundtrack to their lives from another room.  I also found a later phone sex scene between the leads quite funny, especially when their fantasies begin to uncomfortably conflict.  Christina Applegate garners some well-deserved laughs as Erin’s germaphobic and deeply overprotective older sister and her husband, played by a perfectly deadpan Jim Gaffigan, is a droll delight.  Jason Sudeikis also contributes some decent chuckles as Garrett’s man-child best friend that, believe me, manages to explain to his buddies how his porn-star moustache actually serves as a time machine for the "cougars" that he attempts to woe at high school reunion parties that he crashes.   

Yet, there are some gags and scenes that don’t work: a trip to an artificial sun tanning pallor by Garrett is not as hilarious as it should be (although it does pay off to a side-splitting sight gag that involves his bare buttocks and the reveal of how botched the process went for him).  Then there is a dinner scene at Erin’s sister's that occurs after Erin and Garrett were mid-way through intercourse while on her dining room table (gee, I wonder if food will end up on the bare table later?  Cue incredulous and shocked reaction shots!).  There are a few times in the film where Burstein pushes the crudeness and gross-out gag quotient too desperately and too far in a film that did not require it in the first place.    

Beyond that, the film also never feels as joyously and subversively transcendent as last year’s late summer, game changing romcom, (500) DAYS OF SUMMER, even though GOING THE DISTANCE thinks its more clever and seditious than it actually appears.   Burstein's effort hardly reinvents the romcom, but it nonetheless is a moderately enjoyable and sometimes endearing chronicle of two flawed, but sweet natured individuals struggling to see their love through any trial and tribulation.  And Barrymore and Long at the helm do wonders to sell a somewhat trivial, hackneyed, and perfunctory narrative on autopilot.  They prove that two agreeable and natural lead actors can overcome any obstacle that a somewhat weak and inconsistent script leaves in their path.

  H O M E