It’s common knowledge that you don’t go into a restaurant 10 minutes before closing time—odds are you’re gonna get served warmed-up leftovers, end-pieces and floor sweepings by people who just wanna go home already. The same is true, more or less, of the film industry. By September, the general population is back at school/work, the vacation funds have dried up and box office receipts have plunged precipitously. As a result, you aren’t gonna see a bunch of $100 million blockbusters hitting the local cineplex this time of year. The action movies, horror flicks and romantic comedies you’re getting from now until Thanksgiving are all gonna be strictly C-grade material.
So it is with Going the Distance, a low-ambition romcom whose trailer promises vague cutes and a handful of mild chuckles. Working off a by-the-numbers script by first-time pencil pusher Geoff LaTulippe, documentary filmmaker Nanette Burstein (On the Ropes, The Kid Stays in the Picture, American Teen) tries her hand at narrative film with inauspicious results. The cast manages to generate a few sparks, but the material they’re working from is mighty thin.
Drew Barrymore and Justin Long star as Erin and Garrett, a journalist and a record company flack, respectively, who Meet Cute (as required by Writers Guild of America union rule #1219) and fall. They date for a while, obsessively texting one another, talking mushy on the phone, having sun-dappled picnics in the park and occasionally confiding in their Quirky Best Friends. Eventually, Erin’s internship (she’s working at a daily newspaper in New York) comes to an end and she’s faced with the prospect of going home to San Francisco. Troubled by the separation but unwilling to give up their happy new relationship, Erin and Garrett try making the “long distance” thing work. Then ... Oh, wait. There is no “and then.” That’s basically the whole movie.
The picnicking takes a hit, but the texting and the mushy phone talk continue unabated. As the months wear on and the price of cross-country plane tickets rises, Erin and Garrett start getting paranoid and jealous and begin listening to their naysaying Quirky Best Friends. But not to worry, it all works out in the end—thanks to a solution that should have been patently obvious to all involved from the start.
Barrymore (who’s in a bit of a romcom rut lately) and Long (that skinny dude from the “Hi, I’m a Mac” commercials) have a modicum of chemistry—if only for the fact that they’ve been dating, on and off, for a couple of years. She’s still got acting chops and dependable comic timing; but at 35, Barrymore is starting to push the bounds of her adorable ingenue category. (I still love you, baby, but that sound back there? That’s the sound of Amanda Seyfried breathing down your neck.) Add to that the inescapable truth that—between this and voicing Alvin in Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel—Long isn’t exactly proving himself an actor of any measurable weight. Throw in a couple of slackly assembled archetypes for them to play, and you’ve got a film with little or no consequence. Break up? Stay together? Meh.
Charlie Day (of “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia”) makes an impression (you can say that much) as Garrett’s obnoxious roommate. Christina Applegate turns up the shrill as Erin’s married older sis. Anyone else listed in the cast (Jim Gaffigan, Rob Riggle, Ron Livingston, Natalie Morales) barely counts as a cameo.
Basically, Going the Distance is a Match.com commercial that goes on for two hours: Cute people meet cute and have a cute relationship. Of course, since it’s a “modern” romantic comedy, Mr. LaTulippe was obliged to write in lots of crude jokes about penises, phone sex and dry humping. Apparently, that’s meant to appeal to the “kids” in the audience. While that potty-mouth stuff might fly in a Farrelly brothers movie or something by Judd Apatow, it feels out of place in this allegedly sophisticated product. A two-hour Match.com commercial with pube jokes? To put it into romantic terms, I’m just not that into Going the Distance.