Going the Distance
Directed by Nanette Burstein
Screenplay by Geoff LaTulippe
Drew Barrymore as Erin
Justin Long as Garrett
Charlie Day as Dan
Jason Sudeikis as Box
Christina Applegate as Corinne
Ron Livingston as Will
Oliver Jackson-Cohen as Damon
Jim Gaffigan as Phil
Natalie Morales as Brandy
Kelli Garner as Brianna
A romantic comedy that can’t straddle the line between raunchy and sweet, falls into a nowhere land of poop jokes and romantic waffling.
After thirty long and sometimes difficult years in the business, America’s flower-child sweetheart Drew Barrymore has the clout to greenlight almost any movie. Her former real-life boyfriend Justin Long, better known as the Mac Guy, has the charm and comedic timing to carry a film. Together the two have brilliant chemistry. Unfortunately this weekend’s Long and Barrymore movie Going the Distance, about a long-distance relationship in the era of Skype and texting, isn’t worth the frequent flier miles its characters rack up.
Kevin Smith’s Zack and Miri Make a Porno didn’t fare well in the box office, but it’s one of the only movies recently that successfully straddled the line between raunchy and sweet. Nanette Burstein’s Going the Distance struggles to toe that thin line and fails miserably. The movie, about two thirty-somethings working in dying industries (newspaper and records, respectively) who fall in love and stay together despite living on opposite coasts, could have been sweet and smart. Unfortunately, screenwriter Geoff LaTulippe produced a script as chock-full of curses, poop, and penis jokes as it is the requisite saccharine of a rom-com.
The movie follows a standard romantic comedy plotline: boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, an obstacle pops up between them, and they inevitably manage to surmount the circumstances for true love. Erin (Drew Barrymore) is a thirty-one year old intern at the New York Sentinel newspaper when she meets Garrett (Justin Long) at a bar. The two drunkenly hook up, then after a few more dates realize they are actually falling for each other. Unfortunately Erin has to go back to grad school at Stanford, leaving Garrett in NYC on the opposite coast. This all takes place in the first half hour of the movie—which is actually quite cute. After that, things take a turn for the much worse when Erin and Garrett continue their relationship via phone, Skype, and racking up massive traveling costs. After the first half hour, in fact, the movie drags horribly. With stars like Barrymore, Long, and comedians Jim Gaffigan, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis, the movie should have been worth the price of admission. It wasn’t.
Going the Distance struggles to stay relevant using cultural references that’ll only make sense to audiences about 25-35 years old. Garrett’s favorite movie is Top Gun; Erin’s is The Shawshank Redemption (referred to by Erin and true fans as “Shawshank,” and which should have beaten Forrest Gump by a long shot for Best Picture in ‘94). One of Garrett’s most important albums is the Beastie Boys’ License to Ill. The pair first meets over the Centipede arcade game, at which Erin excels. Garrett’s roommate Dan (Charlie Day) DJs Garrett’s hookups with ‘80s classics like “I’ve Had the Time of my Life” and “Take My Breath Away.” Garrett’s record company office is adorned with posters from Of Montreal and Jeff Hanson. While he laments signing a group called 3Z, a trio of siblings reminiscent of the Jonas Brothers, he chases a band called The Boxer Rebellion, whose sound is akin to The Killers. None of these references will be lost on media-savvy 20- and 30-somethings—and yet, the insertion of pop culture feels desperate and unnecessary instead of quirky.
Director Nanette Burstein, whose documentary American Teen is a must-see, seems to admire and encourage improv, and as a result Going the Distance has a documentary feel. The women in Burstein’s film (notably Christina Applegate, playing Erin’s sister Corinne) are just as foulmouthed and bawdy as the men. Smart, honest, self-aware women are rarely glimpsed in the rom-com world, and it’s refreshing but forced. An entertaining conversation between Erin and Corinne about oral sex and dry humping gets old before it’s over. When Erin has a few too many mixed drinks and tells a fellow bar patron to perform a lewd act on her (male) anatomy, it’s funny—but again, the joke drags on a minute too long. Garrett, paranoid about his appearance, visits a faux tanning salon and eats turkey burgers, which is also a nice turnaround from the way women in romantic comedies often fret about their weight and skin. Barrymore, whose big break came at age five when she played adorable Gerty in E.T., seems bent on playing her age, and it’s refreshing to see a female protagonist just over the age of thirty wearing baggy clothes and playing video games. These are some of the movie’s only redeeming factors.
Going the Distance isn’t as twee as 500 Days of Summer; neither is it quite as vulgar as The Sweetest Thing or Zack and Miri Make a Porno. The characters are smart and self-effacing, lewd and sweet—but underdeveloped. The movie follows a proscribed romantic comedy recipe (a dash of cute, a pinch of silly, a heaping cup of sweet, beat until smooth), but the screenwriter got overzealous and added a little too much gross for the result to be palatable. Barrymore and Long appear really comfortable with each other—just as at ease with mutual masturbation as they are with candlelit dinners—and that’s a testament to the actors, not the movie. Skeptics proclaimed that a long-distance relationship was a terrible idea around which to base a romantic comedy, and they were right. Staring at the endearing scar between Long’s eyes and cringing at desperate attempts for relevance only gets you so far. Going the Distance had the potential to be this year’s sweetest romantic comedy, and despite its cast and director, it failed miserably.