Mark Reviews Movies


3 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Nanette Burstein

Cast: Drew Barrmore, Justin Long, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Christina Applegate, Jim Gaffigan

MPAA Rating: R (for sexual content including dialogue, language throughout, some drug use and brief nudity)

Running Time: 1:49

Release Date: 9/3/2010

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Review by Mark Dujsik | September 2, 2010

After slogging and suffering through romantic comedy after romantic comedy that manipulates the behavior of characters, manufactures false and distracting conflict, and stretches for laughs where none are to be had, Going the Distance is a reminder of what the genre can accomplish when it stays true to a premise that actually has relevance to and basis in reality.

First-time screenwriter Geoff LaTulippe gives us characters who are flesh-and-blood, decent, sympathetic people. They work and play in no extraordinary way, but they are relatively content while still hoping for more. They are not overly burdened by baggage from past relationships or hindered in psychological development by childhood familial trauma, but they are realists still hoping for happiness. They are, in the simplest, least complicated way possible, just a couple trying to do their individual and united best to make their relationship work while letting it complement and not interrupt their own lives.

If I make Going the Distance sound like some grandiose study of the working class or a precise character study, then I am doing the film a great disservice. It is nothing so lofty or scrupulous; in fact it is quite the opposite. The film is merely a first-rate example of how uncomplicated and focused a film of this genre can and, in many ways, should be.

It is as simple as this: Erin (Drew Barrymore) and Garrett (Justin Long) like each other quite a bit and decide to continue their relationship after she moves to San Francisco while he stays in New York.

There is more, of course, but those are the basics—that is the foundation of the conflict—nothing more, nothing less. Erin is an aspiring newspaper journalist on an internship at a big city daily, and Garrett works for a record label. She has dreams of becoming a reporter in an industry that is laying off its best instead of hiring its future. He sees indie bands all the time who deserve a shot to sell millions of albums but can't compete with the heft that comes from the new, flash-in-the-pan sensation a bunch of people with money have decided will become successful to make them more of it in the short run. These are modest, identifiable dreams, and there is a plain kind of courage and fiber in the pursuit of them.

Erin and Garrett meet the way some people actually meet. They are both at a bar, relaxing from a tough day, and connect over an arcade game. He messes up her quarter and offers to buy her a drink. They start talking about inconsequential thing and, soon enough, it is the next morning. They both had fun, they coyly admit to one another, and begin hanging out some more.

There are no sudden, elaborate gestures of romance. The pair's dating life progresses naturally, carefree, and with the background detail that she will be leaving the city soon. They joke and laugh, have those big talks that are usually deflated of their significance on the spot (e.g., "Do you want to have kids?"), and are upfront and honest from the start.

When the reality of her departure finally hits, LaTulippe gives us the first glimpse of his winking at conventions. Garrett has dropped her off in front of the airport and realized his mistake of letting Erin leave without telling her what he really thinks. He races out of his car, toward the terminal, and is stopped by security. Fortunately for him, the guard has seen enough movies to realize this Garrett's big scene.

So Erin and Garrett agree they want to stay together while being apart, and the film doesn't budge on exploring the genuine effects, conflicts, concerns, and tensions that arise from such a situation. The late and lengthy phone calls in different time zones put a strain on sleep schedules. The absence of physical contact with and reassurance from the other person is frustrating. The sight of another couple happy together only reminds how Erin of how she is coping apart. The mention of an attentive co-worker with a British accent who loves his mother sends Garrett's mind into the realm of jealousy.

How LaTulippe handles the pressure involving Damon (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), Erin's aforementioned work friend, and Brianna (Kelli Garner), a colleague of Garrett's who also happens to be in a long-distance relationship, is a commendable exercise in restraint. Here is the easiest way to inject a problem or two into the story, but LaTulippe recognizes the dishonesty of piling such conflict upon these characters. The debate of whether one of them should abandon his or her career and which one it should be is more than enough without the addition of an affair, and there's actual growth to be had in the process.

The supporting cast, apart from the amusing, contrivance-breaking red herrings, is made up of multiple comic sidekicks. Garrett has his roommate Dan (Charlie Day), a master of non sequitur conversation and odd social habits (holding conversations from the toilet with the bathroom door wide open), and co-worker Box (Jason Sudeikis), who tries to convince Garrett to, 1.) grow a mustache, and 2.) get a tan. Both fail, the latter in a very funny scene in which Garrett displays the limitations of a spray-on tan to Erin's sister Corinne (Christina Applegate) and brother-in-law Phil (Jim Gaffigan). Corinne is blunt but only because she doesn't want to see her little sister get hurt, and Phil can't stand the competition of the romanticism of Garrett's cross-country travels to see Erin.

Director Nanette Burstein handles the occasional screwball comedy with impressive timing. It is her and LaTulippe's understanding and sympathy in the handling of Erin and Garrett's predicament, though, that truly elevates Going the Distance above genre expectations.

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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