For as prevalent as they, or at least the concept of them, are long-distance relationships don’t get a lot of love from Hollywood. With Going the Distance Nanette Burstein leaves behind her documentary past and takes a stab at it, painting a vivid portrait of the loneliness and jealousy that can devour ones soul when forced to spend months away from your loved one. The film follows Garrett (Justin Long) and Erin (Drew Barrymore), two relationship phobic youngsters who accidentally fall in love and then are forced to deal with the pain of living on opposite sides of the country. They meet in a bar one night after Garrett is hilariously dumped by his rather unstable girlfriend. After an evening of Centipede and trivia they head back to Garrett’s where they share bong hits and supposedly casual sex. But kids being kids, one thing leads to another and the next thing they know Erin is flying back to California to finish school and they are naively declaring that they can make the long distance thing work.
What’s most impressive here is the way Burstein is able to create characters that are worth caring about and then places them in a romance that actually sings. The courtship especially feels genuine and builds a nice foundation for the rest of the film to work off of. The majority of the scenes involve Erin and Garrett being separated but it works because she fills the space not only with love and excitement but also with heaping piles of insecurity that will seem all too familiar to anybody who has ever been in a relationship. Watch for the arrival of Damon, Erin’s sculpted beefcake of a co-worker who also happens to love his mother dearly and who has a sexy accent to boot, and then tell me you’d want him hanging around your girlfriend. Structurally speaking we usually get several scenes of the lovebirds leading their separate lives and then a scene of them reuniting in an overly joyful manner. Surely it represents some sort of reality for those who find themselves in similar situations but the slavishness with which writer Geoff LaTulippe stick to this pattern begins to grate after a while.
It also doesn’t hurt that real-life couple Barrymore and Long work remarkably well together on screen. They both exhibit an ability to draw laughs and display vulnerability in the exact same scene. The supporting cast also works wonders here and they boost up the whole production by providing high level comedy. Jason Sudeikis who has been so good on Saturday Night Live lately rebounds from his sad role in The Bounty Hunter and excels as Garrett’s horny to the point of being creepy best friend. Rob Riggle is also on hand for a few a scenes playing the same alpha male doofus he always does. Here he plays Ron, a relative of Erin’s who is rather pissed at Garrett for being sweet and romantic and thus making him look inattentive by comparison. At times the screenplay dabbles in physical and gross-out humor but it never really works because, restrained as it is, it isn’t necessary and feels out of place. The spray tanning and phone sex scenes especially could’ve simply been dropped and the film would’ve been stronger because of it.
For everything that Going the Distance has going for it it is hardly a flawless piece of work. Most notably is the fact that it is playing out of the same playbook that every other rom-com is. By doing so it gives the audience a sense of security (of course everything will work out OK) but it comes at a high prices as it restricts Burstein’s ability to maneuver. Even more problematic, however, is that so much time is gobbled up by the two leads bellyaching about how terribly heartbreaking it is that they have to live so damned far apart when all either of them would have to do to remedy the situation is place love above their capitalistic pursuits. Sadly that line of thinking is absolutely not en vogue so we are forced to watch as they twist their lives into ridiculous knots in an attempt to have everything. It’s very of the moment to be sure but also a sad indictment of the society we live in. That said it is important to remember that we live in a world wherein Katherine Heigl is actively trying to kill this genre (have you seen Killers? 27 Dresses? The Ugly Truth wasn’t that bad…but still) so when you get something like this that actually feels organic it’s worth the time to give it a look.
Director: Nanette Burstein Notable Cast: Drew Barrymore, Justin Long, Christina Applegate, Jason Sudeikis Writer(s): Geoff LaTulippe