|Drew Barrymore and Justin Long try to make it work.|
Going the Distance worth the trip
It’s really, really easy to screw up a romantic comedy.
It can be too romantic. It can be too comedic. It can be too mushy, too corny, too bloated, too soft, too cold and even too hot.
Romantic comedies that are just right, like Rob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally or Marc Webb’s (500) Days of Summer, come along so rarely that it seems cruel, even wrong, to compare every film in the genre to them. I would even argue that those films are divine accidents, that capturing the essence of how funny love is in a film is something that happens through some kind of providence rather than skill or careful cinematic posturing. If you know the genre, you know that the best you can hope for is a moderate success, because hitting it out of the park is a freakish occurrence.
Going the Distance, a rare fictional offering from documentary filmmaker Nanette Burstein (American Teen), will not go down in history as a benchmark romantic comedy film, but it will go down as something better than average, packing a charm and a rare sense of honesty that makes it feel much more like a love story than most of the airbrushed, candy-coated star vehicles that attempt to pass for romance these days (Did anyone else think of Katherine Heigl when I said that? Never mind.).
Garrett (Justin Long) is a low-level record label rep living in New York with little money and bad romantic prospects. Erin (Drew Barrymore) is a low-level newspaper intern living in New York with little money and bad romantic prospects. They meet at a bar and bond over an arcade game they’re both quite good at (though she has the high score). After a successful first date that includes the best Top Gun reference I’ve seen in years, Erin reveals that she’s leaving the city in six weeks to return to California and finish school. The two agree to keep the relationship light and fun, but when the six weeks are up, they find themselves deeply in love and unable to let go.
The relationship goes continental, and both must struggle to keep the relationship together while dealing with the pitfalls of a long-distance romance (he’s jealous of her co-workers, she has trouble with awkward phone sex, and so on). We follow this adventure, along with Erin’s sister and brother-in-law (Christina Applegate and Jim Gaffigan) and Garrett’s best friends (Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis), and believe it or not, laugh a good deal.
There are a good many funny moments in Going the Distance, some that very nearly caused me to spew soda from my mouth, but the places where it work best are the moments that feel genuine, unrushed and somehow closer to reality than most of what you see in cinematic love stories. Erin and Garrett talk about nonsensical things that real couples talk about, they have the awkward brushes with each other’s friends that real couples have, and blessedly, everyone in the movie talks like real people talk. There’s no great moment of pontification on why women are so controlling or why men are so oblivious. You know why? I’m guessing it’s because people don’t really spend all of their time drinking beer and moaning and groaning about the opposite sex. Those conversations happen, but they happen in between real life: playing darts, seeing bands, ordering drinks, going to work (Ever notice how people in romantic comedies have jobs that allow them to almost never be at work?). This is a refreshing film, if for no other reason than the real life moments that make it ring true. If you see it with a close friend, there are likely points in this film that will make both of you blush a little.
I’ve heard complaints about the chemistry between Long and Barrymore, and after seeing the film I’m no closer to understanding them. The chemistry isn’t earth-shattering, sure, but it’s good, it’s strong, and it works with the tone of the film. Apart from a few high emotional moments, we’re watching a laid back movie, a movie more about what happens in between the dates than the dates themselves, and Long and Barrymore pull that off perfectly. The supporting cast, helmed by scene stealers Day and Gaffigan, also shines here. Everyone looks and feels seamless, and most importantly, they seem like they’re having a good time.
I enjoyed this film more than I’ve enjoyed most of the romcoms that have marched through the theatres in the past year, and it’s not only because it’s good. I enjoyed it because it’s not like most other films of its kind. It’s far from perfect in its execution, but Going the Distance at least dares to be something that other flicks in its genre won’t be: messy, and by extension, full of life.
Matt’s Call: This is a great date night movie, particularly if you and your partner enjoy dirty jokes. It’s also a romantic comedy that even the romance-challenged can get behind, which sets it apart yet again as a film worth seeing.