A couple tries to keep love alive despite the difficulties of each living on a different coast in Going the Distance, a — get this — not-horrible romantic comedy.
Funny, even. Fairly entertaining. Worth the price of admission, maybe, particularly if you go during a matinee. I know.
Erin (Drew Barrymore) meets Garrett (Justin Long) at a bar in New York City and, after a night of inebriation and copulation, they decide they like each other enough to learn each other’s names and hang out again. Except, Erin warns, despite being 31, she is but an intern at a New York Times-ish newspaper and is about to head back to Stanford, all the way out in California, to finish grad school. Garrett, a not-completely-satisfied record company guy, is tied to the East Coast, so he tries not to become too enamored of Erin. Tries and fails and soon she is heading back and they are forced to decide what to do about their new romance.
Video phones, texts, the occasional trip — how hard could it be?
At first, not very — time zones get in the way but our couple is still able to find ways to be cutesy and romantic for their weeks apart. But then airfares get expensive, each wonders who else might be in the other’s life, they get frustrated about not having a person in person to lean on, and what seemed like a minor obstacle in their relationship turns into an ever-growing wall between them.
Since romantic frustration isn’t terribly funny, each has wacky friends. In New York, it’s Garrett’s roommate Dan (Charlie Day, playing a variation on his It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia character) and his co-worker Box (Jason Sudeikis), whose most recent scheme for winning over the ladies involves a Tom Selleck mustache and shooting for a demographic that would appreciate the nostalgic appeal of same. Out in Cali, Erin has her tightly wound sister Corinne (Christina Applegate) and Erin’s schlubby husband Phil (Jim Gaffigan).
It isn’t completely fair to say these supporting characters make the movie — Long and Barrymore, date-y types in real life, have a decent amount of chemistry and are occasionally quite funny. But the supporting characters do provide most of the laughs — Applegate in particular is wonderful and Day’s shtick might be juvenile but it’s winning. I found myself actually amused, audibly laughing at even the gimmickier comedy these characters sprinkle throughout the movie.
Going the Distance gets an R rating primarily for its frequent swearing. At some point during the movie, when I realized that I had been not only laughing out loud but genuinely enjoying myself, I started to wonder, is that how low the bar is? Are romantic comedies such bottom-rung entertainment that the simple addition of a few F-words is enough to make you feel like you’re seeing something new?
Perhaps. I suggest that the next R-rated romantic comedy movie team considers that we have now been here, done this and will need more than just Fs and wacky sex talk to reach this level of achievement again. But here, the more aggressive dialogue works — it does always seem a bit ridiculous that characters in romantic comedies all talk and act like they’re still high school freshmen living with their parents. Here, there is some acknowledgement of the enjoyment grown people might take in both drinking and sex as well as a recognition that life is messy and that serious choices are often required — relationship or career? Good job far from boyfriend, pay-the-bills job near him? Erin’s backstory is that she has already made that choice once — she picked the boy and dropped out of college — and now feels she’s behind in her life. It’s not genius storytelling, but it feels more honest than another Katherine Heigl “I’m so picky” shrieky mess.
Going the Distance is proof that romantic comedies don’t have to be horrible. It might not be a masterpiece but the fact that it’s enjoyable makes the movie feel kind of like a miracle.
Rated R for sexual content including dialogue, language throughout, some drug use and brief nudity. Directed by Nanette Burstein and written by Geoff LaTulippe, Going the Distance is an hour and 43 minutes long and distributed in wide release by Warner Bros.