August 31, 2010

Going the Distance

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Going the Distance

ROMANCE/COMEDY:

United States, 2010

U.S. Release Date:

2010-09-03

Running Length:

1:35

MPAA Classification:

PG-13 (Sexual Content, Profanity, Nudity)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Drew Barrymore, Justin Long, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Christina Applegate

Director:

Nanette Burstein

Screenplay:

Geoff LaTulippe

Cinematography:

Eric Steelberg

Music:

Mychael Danna

U.S. Distributor:

Warner Brothers

Subtitles:

none


To date, no motion picture has adequately captured the soaring highs and devastating lows associated with a long distance relationship, but Going the Distance comes as close as any movie has. Nannette Burstein's feature gets many of the highlights right, even if they are wrapped in the safety blanket of a traditional romantic comedy. Going the Distance isn't that fundamentally different from nearly every rom-com available in the multiplex market today with the exception that the "romantic complications" aspect, which is normally filled by an old flame, is represented here by distance and career demands. Like most enjoyable denizens of this genre, Going the Distance offers a credible connection between the leads, some light comedy and heartfelt romance, and an ending that will not disappoint those who depend on fantasy resolutions to love stories, be they serious or fatuous in nature.

Going the Distance is divided into two parts. This first segment chronicles the "meet cute" between record producer Garrett (Justin Long) and journalist Erin (Drew Barrymore). Neither is looking for anything serious since she's only in New York for another seven weeks, finishing off an internship at a newspaper. Of course, they fall madly in love and decide to try to keep things going when September rolls around and she returns to California. The movie's second act illustrates some of the difficulties of staying together with 3000 miles and three time zones in between and no real "exit strategy." Long-distance relationships are almost never long-term solutions. For them to work, both parties have to be moving toward a mutually satisfactory goal. In Going the Distance, this isn't the case. There are three apparent resolutions: Garrett must give up his job (which he hates) and move across country, Erin must abandon her dream (she gets an offer from a San Francisco paper) and join Garret in New York, or both must turn their backs on the romance. Since this is a comedy, not a tragedy, we're reasonably certain everything will turn out okay in the end, but credit must be given to Burstein (whose previous effort was the semi-fake "documentary" American Teen) and screenwriter Geoff LaTulippe for acknowledging the pitfalls that undermine many long-distance relationships. Leavening the situation with comedy doesn't make it any less truthful.

Aspects of Going the Distance, especially regarding how Erin and Garrett handle their long-distance communication, seem a little dated, as if the script was drafted five (or so) years ago. The characters have cell phones, but there's no evidence of a smart phone (especially noteworthy since Justin Long is arguably better known as an Apple pitchman than an actor). When the characters decide to become "adventuresome" and embark explore sexual options, they try phone sex instead of Internet sex. They text each other, but they fail to employ webcams (although, curiously, Erin uses one to converse with her sister). Maybe Going the Distance is intended to be a period piece and is actually set in the mid '00s.

Justin Long's laid-back style is perfect for this role; it's easy to identify with Garrett as a newly minted 30-something who has a stable job but is fundamentally dissatisfied with his life. The character is in limbo, and Long brings this out without making Garrett seem too self-absorbed. For her part, Drew Barrymore tones down the extreme sunniness she often brings to roles. Erin is bright, funny, and optimistic, but not overflowing with such a wellspring of good cheer that we want to strangle her. The supporting cast includes a hilarious Christina Applegate as Erin's neat freak sister whose idea of great sex is an extended session of dry humping, and Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis as Garrett's best friends. Sudeikis' presence is welcome, and his explanation of how his mustache is like a time machine has to be heard to be believed. Day, on the other hand, is occasionally annoying, although his determination to provide a musical soundtrack to Garrett's life has its moments.

Anyone who has experienced a long-distance relationship will recognize echoes in Going the Distance: the frustration of lengthy physical absences, the craving for intimacy, the highs of meeting at the airport and the lows of saying goodbye, the difficulty of remaining faithful, and the trepidation of facing an uncertain future. Going the Distance doesn't get all of this right, but it captures enough for us to believe the characters and their situations. Plus, although the overall rhythms are those of a generic romantic comedy, the details are unique enough for the production not to seem overly formulaic. It's a nice, understated way to end the summer.

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