Tuesday, September 07, 2010

They're Going for Speed

Six weeks before she's due to move back to San Francisco, Erin (Drew Barrymore) meets Garrett (Justin Long) in a New York bar, and instantly they hit it off. They promise not to get too attached, but of course, they can't help it, and when Erin crosses the country to go back to journalism school, the two decide to give the whole long-distance thing a try. And that's what gives the new rom-com Going the Distance its double entendre title. Real-life on again/off again couple Long and Barrymore have a warm, believable chemistry, and they make this challenged relationship (and film) worth rooting for.

Actually, I dare say it's not Barrymore you root for here, it's Long, who ups his big-screen profile with a confident, affable performance that's light-years past the dweeby ones he used to give in films like Dodgeball and TV shows like Ed. Going the Distance is about him and Barrymore, but he mostly carries the film — and easily. Long is joined by SNL'er Jason Sudeikis and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's Charlie Day, and these three help give the film more of a male POV than the typical romance. (On the west coast, Barrymore gets to play off Christina Applegate and Jim Gaffigan.) Also giving the film more testosterone is a frankness of language and distinct lack of cheese; sure, the film has its cute moments (mostly in the beginning), but it's hardly ever sappy. Day and Sudeikis make sure of that.

Director Nanette Burstein (American Teen) does a good job here keeping the action moving, and keeping the romance alive even though the leads are on opposite sides of the country for most of the film. And I appreciate that Burstein and screenwriter Geoff LaTulippe give nods to the current economic climate by acknowledging the high price of airline tickets and the difficult job market for both Erin and Garrett's music-biz professional — factors that would make frequent travel or an easily-decided-upon relocation for either character unbelievable. However, despite the fact that Long, Barrymore, Sudeikis, and Day all make Going the Distance better than it has any right to be, the film is still too long (no pun intended). We get it, long distance relationships suck. There's no reason we have to wait nearly two hours to learn how this couple will deal with it.

Still, Going the Distance is a film where you do ultimately care how these two kids are going to make it work — if they can make it work. The ending, while pat, is satisfying and not a cop-out. It's indicative of the film overall, which doesn't take the easy way out and actually has a bit of integrity. (You might say it's like a more legit, believable version of Fever Pitch, complete with Barrymore in the female romantic lead role.) So that's why I'm giving the very enjoyable Going the Distance a surprising B+.



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