Going the Distance has received some vicious reviews and flopped at the US box office, which is a real shame. Nanette Burstein’s film isn’t revolutionary, but it is remarkable given the current state of the romantic comedy genre.
More specifically, raunchy, R-rated romantic comedy; Going the Distance is cut from the same cloth as a number of films that have tried to breed your traditional Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan chick flick with a more guy-friendly Judd Apatow-style movie.
This subgenre traditionally gives us films like What Happens in Vegas, The Ugly Truth, or other fare so vile you’ll need to cleanse your soul afterward with an Ingmar Bergman marathon.
And now there’s Going the Distance, and I cannot stress enough how wonderfully decent this movie is. The comedy works, the romance works, the characters aren’t making idiots out of themselves or biting off each other’s head throughout the film before arbitrarily shacking up at the end.
It’s not perfect – the storytelling is a mess, and there’s never enough plot to really sustain the film – but it’s just so refreshingly ‘OK’.
Justin Long stars as Garrett, a mildly unhappy music exec who has just broken up with his girlfriend. Drew Barrymore is Erin, a harried summer intern at a New York City newspaper. The two meet cute over an arcade game of Centipede at a local bar, hit it off and spend the night together.
Neither is looking for anything long-term – he’s just out of a relationship, she goes back to Stanford in six weeks – but they fall in love anyway, and are eventually forced into a long-distance relationship.
With the title and plot, Going the Distance seems to have labeled itself as the ‘long-distance relationship’ movie. In reality, that’s just a plot device – Barrymore and Long are together for most of the running time, and only rarely do we dig into the realities of a long-distance relationship, like Skype and phone sex.
And that is, bizarrely, all the story we get here. Will she move to New York? Will he move to California? Will they stick together or will they drift apart?
There’s little arguing between Erin and Garrett here, no miscommunication, no question of fidelity, and for that break in the traditional formula I was eternally grateful. It does, however, leave us a formula film with little formula to sustain itself.
But Burstein, with a background in documentaries (American Teen and, with Brett Morgen, The Kid Stays in the Picture and On the Ropes) always keeps things lively and realistic. Characters make decisions with their heads instead of their hearts, almost unheard of in the genre.
Barrymore and Long are likable (and apparently a real-life couple, though they could’ve fooled me) but an excellent supporting cast steals the show. Jason Sudekis and (especially) Charlie Day (of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) are hilarious as Garrett’s best friends; ditto Christina Applegate as Erin’s sister.