You’re lying in bed with the clock reading some un-Godly hour in red analog, and you reach out your hand to find only the cold space of the other side of your bed. You want to pull the one you love close to you, but you can’t, because they’re gone. They aren’t on vacation or out of town for work. They are – for the foreseeable future – living in a completely different city.
Most people have found themselves in this position. Even though the concept of the long distance relationship was probably invented when the first tribe realized there was a second tribe (or at least when war starting sending soldiers away for long periods of time), the struggle to keep the fire burning with mileage looming in between is especially appropriate for an age where you can find love on the other end of an internet connection.
It’s the challenge of cross-country romance that the main characters of Going the Distance find themselves facing.
Garrett (Justin Long) runs into Erin (Drew Barrymore) on the night of a lackluster breakup. They hit it off, but she’s leaving in six weeks to head back home to San Francisco when her internship with a local New York City paper runs out. Unfortunately, they hit it off too well and find themselves having to invest completely despite the miles between them.
What probably works most about Nanette Burstein’s film is its sincerity. It’s impossible to neglect the context of the film coming out after a barrage of thoughtless, heartless, pandering romantic comedies where 12 big name stars get together and pour high fructose corn syrup (with the same amount of calories as regular sugar) all over a bunch of unrealistic love stories. However, it’s that context takes Going the Distance from simply being a fun, engaging film to being a breath of fresh romantic comedy air. Slightly wittier versions of real people having realistic problems is apparently now a novel concept again.
Carrying the main weight of the film, Long and Barrymore bounce effortless electricity between each other – a necessary component in a movie where they spend a frustrating amount of time away from each other. That electricity also comes in handy when it’s converted to agitation, jealousy, and anger – the natural creation of seeing something you care so much about be so far away.
As with the traditional romantic comedy, this film is bolstered by a crew of goofy best friends. In Erin’s case, it’s her neurotic sister Corinne (Christina Applegate) who flounders with her marriage and the pressure of young children. In Garrett’s case, it’s his two best friends Dan (Charlie Day) and Box (Jason Sudeikis) who are just normal enough to seem like real people and just insane enough to seem like real people. Who sometimes accidentally shave themselves a Hitler mustache.
There is honesty afforded at every turn. Geoff LaTulippe’s script is innovative in tackling a tough type of relationship, but it also follows the rules enough to feel like the warm security blanket we need when it comes to love. He’s created rich characters that live firmly in our world, the actors have embodied them, and Burstein has allowed them room to breathe.
With an R-rating, it’s probably a nightmare for marketers, but it’s a mark of freedom to allow adults to be adults. Instead of exploiting the rating for a gross-out gag in every scene, the characters curse when they need to, talk about cunnilingus like mature (and immature) people do, and engage in the types of sexual situations that surprise Jim Gaffigan when he’s eating his midnight snack. As a result, the film doesn’t feel bowdlerized and it doesn’t feel outrageous.
There are a few problems that stem mainly from the structure of the script. Impossible to avoid, the reality of placing two main characters so far away from each other over a decent span of time is one that robs the film of a lot of possibilities. The pay off is that we get to feel the same elation when one surprises the other by flying across the country for the weekend. Unfortunately, the price tag is that dramatic situations are usually left to the ether by a convenient jump in time. We’re asked to assume several times that a fight has either been resolved or left unresolved based on how the pair are acting in the next sequence, and that’s a shame. At the same time, it also represents the disconnect that can come from the situation. Still, it would have been tighter storytelling on the production’s part to give some closure along the way.
On the nitpick front, there’s a strange camera choice in a scene (that can be seen in the trailer) where Garrett and Erin are eating dinner. The scene works, but it’s the one time the camera style is handheld and grainy. It seems deliberately done, but it doesn’t fit in with the rest of the movie at all – sort of like the scene just before the wedding in Up in the Air. It doesn’t ruin anything, but it’s jarring enough to raise an eyebrow.
Even with the innovation of showing the lovers getting together at the beginning (as opposed to, say, on the observation deck of the Empire State Building), the ending is the most organic stop the path of the story could possibly come to. It’s an interesting choice considering the genre, and it’s fulfilling both on its own and to see LaTulippe and Burstein leave their cookie cutters at home.
Over all, the film boasts a fantastic comedic cast with no stragglers, a challenging concept, and a return to romantic comedy form that manages to avoid feeling stuffy and played out. It’s a fun film, and hopefully you won’t have to go home to an empty bed and a Skype connection after you see it.
The Upside: Great comedic performances, characters that feel real, and a satisfying return to the romantic comedy formula with its own twists.
The Downside: A few gaps in the storytelling get lost on the other end of the phone connection.
On the Side: Writer Geoff LaTulippe based the story off of his friend’s long distance relationship.