Going the Distance (review)

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Be Careful How You Rom-Com…

I think the only good sex advice I ever read in a “woman’s” magazine — it was probably Cosmo or Glamour, and I would certainly have been reading it out of desperation in a doctor’s waiting room or something, because, if you’re a born reader, you have to be reading all the time, even if it’s just a cereal box or an idiotic magazine… Anyway, the advice: Be careful whom you sleep with, because you might end up bonded to someone you don’t even like.

Now, it’s not that Drew Barrymore’s Erin doesn’t like Justin Long’s Garrett, but what she intends to be a brief fling — because she’s leaving town to move across the country in six weeks — ends up developing into something more. And now they’re both stuck bonded to someone on the other side of the country. Which is a tough thing when you’re a healthy young person, and horny, but interested only in indulging that horniness with one special person.
What sucks for me is: I slept with this movie, and now I’m sorry I did. Barrymore and Long are so irresistibly adorable I couldn’t help myself, but I don’t like their Going the Distance story very much. And by very much I mean, not at all. But I still keep wanting to go back to it for another romp, because I love them both: they’re cute as buttons together and separately, and they’ve got charisma and screen presence to spare.

I wish their story — from first-time screenwriter Geoff LaTulippe and documentarian Nanette Burstein (American Teen), making her narrative debut — could have relaxed enough to coast on them alone, because then it would have been fine. Instead, though, it tries too hard to be cute, and the desperation — “Please like me!” the movie is practically screaming — becomes a turnoff. And it doesn’t trust that the complications of maintaining a long-distance romance are enough in themselves to fuel an obstacle-laden story.

There’s a quite delectably randy bit, for instance, in which the lovers, having now been separated for a couple of months, attempt a bout of phone sex, but it simply isn’t working for them. The scene is sweet and sexy and naughty without being dirty: it’s an honest depiction of authentic sexuality on both their parts, and it assumes the audience is a grownup about sex, too, down to realizing that it doesn’t always work out the way you hope or expect it will, and that orgasm cannot be delivered on demand. But then other moments fail so head-smackingly that you have to wonder if they were written by the same person. As when Garrett finally hops out to San Francisco from New York to surprise Erin at Thanksgiving, and they’re so hot for each other that they can barely wait to get to a bed. In fact, they don’t wait: The moment they burst into Erin’s sister’s home, where she’s been living, they’re fucking on the dining room table. But the moment here is icky and dirty and idiotic: because Erin’s brother-in-law (Jim Gaffigan: 17 Again, The Love Guru) happens to be sitting there in the dark eating a late-night sandwich — which is, of course, his right, this being his house and all — and then her sister (Christina Applegate: Surviving Christmas, View from the Top) appears in the room and is completely grossed out, and then the sister spends the next day practically fumigating the table, using such noxious chemicals that she has to wear a face mask… or perhaps she believes that some lingering pheromones in the air will infect her. The sister’s reaction makes no sense, not if this is intended to be a grownup movie, and even Erin’s indiscretion is pretty inexcusable: she knows she’s a guest in someone else’s home, and that there are kids around, too. It’s supposed to be funny, but it’s just weird and wrong.

Perhaps the thing that feels weirdest and wrongest, though, is how undeveloped as people Erin and Garrett are. I don’t mean as characters: I mean, These characters should be played by actors a decade younger than Barrymore and Long (much as I worship them both). Barrymore (Everybody’s Fine, Whip It) is 35 years old, for pete’s sake, and she’s playing a 31-year-old intern at a New York newspaper when we meet her. There’s some overt explanation of why she’s “behind” in her life, but it doesn’t ring true. And Garrett (Long [Planet 51, Youth in Revolt] is 32 years old) is a music producer with, clearly, some significant professional experience, but he lives like a frat boy. It’s not about living cheap in New York, which is hard to do, it’s about how he does it — his friends, for instance, though also played by actors who are also well into their 30s (Jason Sudeikis [The Bounty Hunter, Semi-Pro] and Charlie Day), also seem like immature children. And it’s not that being an actual grownup well into your 30s means you have to be married and living in the suburbs; it’s that, for as sweet and as genuine as Erin and Garrett are, they play more like 20something urban singles than 30somethings.

It’s really a shame. This could have been a smart, wise, astutely funny movie about modern adult romance. Instead it feels like a look at postcollege playacting at being an adult.

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Fri, Sep 03, 2010 2:04pm

Applegate >>> Barrymore

Fri, Sep 03, 2010 2:05pm


Fri, Sep 03, 2010 2:09pm

The dining room scene sounds like the usual problem I have with some Rom Coms: the good ones exist in real life, the bad ones live in Romantic Comedy land. In Romantic Comedy land you make funny faces and do absurdly convoluted things in the name of love, and engage in behavior that would never happen in real life.

This sounds like a mixture, but that scene is right out of Romantic Comedy land.

Fri, Sep 03, 2010 2:25pm

While there are plenty of real and interesting people who are single into their thirties, modern culture pretty much demands that there be some sort of explanation for this, especially in romantic protagonists who are presumably perfectly capable of being a worthwhile partner. Does the film give any sort of excuse?

Accounting Ninja
Fri, Sep 03, 2010 2:33pm

Huh, Funwithheadlines, I think you just nailed why most mainstream RomComs bug me so intensely….(well, that, and their often retrograde gender roles :/ )

Wed, Sep 15, 2010 3:22am