Going the Distance: Nanette Burstein’s High-Concept Comedy, Starring Drew Barrymore and Justin Long

In Going the Distance, yet another disappointing romantic comedy (following “The Switch,” “Eat Pray Love” and countless others this year),” Drew Barrymore and Justin Long play a cross-country couple whose booty calls actually take place over the phone.
A high-concept comedy? You bet. Another unnecessary romantic comedy? Sure. Another film in which the charming Drew Barrymore doesn’t play against a leading man of her caliber? Decidedly so.

As penned by first-time feature writer Geoff LaTulippe, “Going the Distance” centers on a one-night stand, fueled by beer-and-barbecued wings, which accidentally turns into something that both promises and threatens to be more substantial significant.

When Erin (Barrymore) and Garrett (Long) first meet, all they want is to have a few fun frisky weeks before she heads back to graduate school in California and he stays in New York City.  Erin is a Stanford journalism grad student at the end of her summer internship in the magazine “New York Sentinel.”  For his part, having just been dumped by his girlfriend, Garrett is a New York record-label exec.

As is often the case with such fairy tales, we get the obligatory airport farewell scene–but not a good one here. Thus, when Erin is about to board a plane home, the duo realizes they may have developed deeper feelings for one another. Refusing to give up, or to end the fun they had had together, they decide to try the “long distance” thing.

The comedy is meant to be raucous, humorous, and sexy, but what unfolds on screen is a rather flat tale, which in desperation turns to be coarse and rude, while peppered with very few good moments.

Will they be able to work out their issues? In this age of global traveling and fast communication, the movie deals with a timely, contemporary issue that many couples of dual career have to contend with.
To be fair, the romantic comedy is grounded in greater realistic detail and is rawer than the Hollywood norm, perhaps a result of the fact that its director, Nanette Burstein, comes from the field of documentaries; she had previously made the superb “On the Ropes,” and then not so good “American Teen.”
Burstein makes sure to depict in minutae the couple’s dates at Coney Island (of all places), their dining at inexpensive Italian restaurants–you see they’re down to earth!

But it’s the execution, in all departments (especially writing, directing, and even acting), that is faulty here. There may not have been many romantic comedies about this particular subject, but “Going the Distance” is certainly not fresh or funny or insightful enough in offering an honest look at the perils of the long distance relationship.  The movie offers sort of a routine check list of problems entailed in such bonds: loneliness, sexual desire, jealousy, even the cliche notion of being in different time zones.

 

As the aspiring, strong-willed journalist Erin, Barrymore is decent but no more. When the writing is competent, she rises to the occasion and is both tough and vulnerable, occasionally showing a smartass sense of humor. Justin Long, however, is less impressive, despite his personal familiarity with his leading leady (they have had a off and on affair off screen for years).