REVIEW: Going the Distance [2010]

“Dan, take me to Berlin”

Acclaimed director—and Buffalo, NY native—Nanette Burstein has finally made her way to the world of fictional film. After helming the documentary The Kid Stays in the Picture about producer Robert Evans, one could say she took a step towards narrative with American Teen, a real-life look into today’s high schools and just how close John Hughes got The Breakfast Club. I remember some talk about staging and scripting reactions to make it all more cinematically interesting, but whether true or not, the film was a hit, touching the American public with a collective recall of teenage memories, both good and bad. As a result, romantic comedy isn’t too much of a stretch in order for her to spread those wings. Going the Distance comes from a script by first-time writer Geoff LaTulippe and tells the story of two unlikely lovers falling for each other during her six week summer internship of zero expectations in his city of residence. Only at the end do they realize their true feelings and decide to try and make a long distance relationship between New York and San Francisco work.

It is weird how real life can sometimes project feelings about people without you knowing. The fact that leading couple Justin Long (Garrett) and Drew Barrymore (Erin) are together in real life made me believe they could actually fall for each other in this film—her being so much older than him and all. Well, the joke is on me because she is only three years his senior. Who knew that geeky cheerleader from Dodgeball was in his thirties? Starting in the business so young, Barrymore just seems so much older than 35 … I guess having a career spanning 30 of them will do that. Despite any questions about their age, however, there is something to be said about romance off-screen translating onto it because these two make you believe their love. After seeing Long introduced with a young girlfriend in his opening scene, you sense his sole desire to have a girl on his arm so as to combat loneliness—he doesn’t love her. But as soon as he and Barrymore connect following a Centipede arcade game confrontation, the genuine sparkle in their eyes comes out.

Burstein’s inclusion of crude animation in American Teen shows up in a beautifully constructed opening credit sequence and then obtrusively, in moves of overkill, whenever one of the stars travels across country for a visit. She adds a couple more fun flourishes, such as a frame progression of clothes on a line hanging outside a NYC apartment building, but there isn’t enough of it to render the effects anything more than gimmicky. It’s too bad because I think she could have stuck with simply showing these characters interact on their own merits, leaving the camera-tricks and transitional gags for a film that allowed her to really go for it. The cast assembled may not contain the biggest names in comedy, but it does prove those involved are some of the most successful. In the end, Going the Distance may be a cute look into the long distance relationship and the turmoil those miles can cause sexually, mentally, and physically, but what really caught my eye, and would get me to watch it again, was the comedy.

Will they end up together when all is said and done? Is the volatile job market of big city living and their professions of his record label and her journalism really going to be the cause of an inevitable heartache when they realize it just won’t work? Unfortunately, in real life, a person sometimes needs to fall on the sword and sacrifice his or her professional dreams to keep love alive. If the jobs aren’t there, a leap of faith journey in trust is always an option—a weighty issue contemplated almost throughout the entire film in a ‘will he or won’t she’ and vice versa kind of way. And while all that is the backbone for what goes on, LaTulippe knows he has to go a little further in order to keep his audience invested, and thankfully his words and Burstein’s direction allow the cast to bring their A-games, excelling in cutting the drama with a constant injection of comedy. With actors like Jim Gaffigan, Ron Livingston, and unofficial winner of most cameos in 2010, Kristen Schaal, serving effective but miniscule roles, one has to be able to integrate the serious moments and the absurd.

You don’t get more absurd than one Mr. Charlie Day and his on the brink of obnoxiousness voice saying and doing inappropriate things with the kind of innocence only he can achieve. He is crude and unusual from partaking in open door bathroom policies, reveling in being the awkward third wheel even when not invited, and getting really worked up about the non-existence of baby pigeons. Couple him with a generally calm and collected Jason Sudeikis, the complete embodiment of male pig this time around and to great effect, as Long’s best friends and confidants, and you are in for a raucous ride. Christina Applegate’s over-protective sister/mother figure adds a good infusion of suburban normalcy—or is it lack of—to counteract the city-folk’s penchant for a general lack of common decency, providing laughs just as big. The best romantic comedies are either so well written that their overdone plots appear fresh or contain a memorable cavalcade of comedians to liven the drab core up. Going the Distance’s story never quite transcends it’s own limitations or expectations, but the players do their best to make us forget. Good performances can help make the romance relevant, but consistent laughter is what makes people recommend it to friends, turning a decent rom-com into a worthwhile comedy. Oh, and a great soundtrack definitely doesn’t hurt.

Going the Distance 6/10 | ★ ★ ½

[1] (L-R) JUSTIN LONG as Garrett and DREW BARRYMORE as Erin in New Line Cinema’s romantic comedy “GOING THE DISTANCE,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Jessica Miglio
[2] (L-R) JASON SUDEIKIS as Box and CHARLIE DAY as Dan in New Line Cinema’s romantic comedy “GOING THE DISTANCE,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Jessica Miglio


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