Going the Distance
Directed by Nanette Burstein
For about half of its 103-minute running time, the Drew Barrymore/Justin Long rom-com Going the Distance makes you forget that it is, in fact, a 21st century romantic comedy; unlike the countless Sweet Home Alabamas and Valentine's Days that all drink from the same fountain of cliché, this particular foray into an increasingly unpromising genre walks and talks like something far smarter and more sophisticated. Centering on a pair of characters grappling with their respective job field's collapses (Barrymore's Erin is an aspiring journalist, Long's Garrett a producer for a record label) and also with their recent, failed romances, Going the Distance opens promisingly with a zippy, wise-talking first act that feels like what might happen if New Line handed Nicole Holofcener an eight-figure check. Meeting over a game of Centipede at a dive bar and quickly realizing over a night of beers and laughs that, yes, they like each other, Erin and Garrett become swept up in a New York romance that feels surprisingly real; director Nanette Burstein (documentaries American Teen and The Kid Stays in the Picture) nixes expected pop-song montages and other dreaded contrivances in favor of showing the duo having actual conversations and laughing because they actually make each other laugh, not because the script mandates it.
And then, in a cruel twist of fate, this easygoing pleasantry is rudely interrupted by the film's plot. Erin leaves NYC to finish grad school in San Francisco, forcing the newly minted couple to decide whether it's worth seeing if their six-week love affair can last a lifetime. A long-distance relationship ensues. Knowing that watching Erin and Garrett text message, Skype, and phone each other can only be amusing for so long, screenwriter Geoff LaTulippe tries to keep things interesting by having his characters become increasingly foul-mouthed and offensive for no other reason except that the Law of Apatow states that vulgar = funny. And as Erin and Garrett talk ad nauseam about how hard it is to make things work on opposite sides of the country, the breezy charm of the film's first act is all but lost. When they're reunited in California following a visit from Garrett, the cliché fountain starts pouring (Erin's sister hates Garrett! Erin's attractive boss with a foreign accent has a crush on her!); the only distance on the viewer's mind at this point is the distance hoped for from this increasingly maddening comedy.
Opens September 3