'Going the Distance' falls short

Posted: Thursday, September 16, 2010

"Going the Distance"

Ap Photo/Warner Bros., Jessica Miglio
Ap Photo/Warner Bros., Jessica Miglio
In this film publicity image released by Warner Bros., Drew Barrymore, left, and Justin Long are shown in a scene from "Going the Distance."

New Line Cinema

1 hour, 42 minutes

A few years ago Triumvirate Theatre's annual dinner-theater show was a spoof of the classic "Maltese Falcon," and I got to play the role of sleazy underworld figure Kaspar Gutman, immortalized on film by Sydney Greenstreet. At one point in the film Gutman is engaging in some banter with Humphrey Bogart's Sam Spade who replies with a cynical, "Tell me something I don't know." In our show, my comeback to that line was a slightly embarrassed stammer, "Er I enjoy Drew Barrymore movies!" Big laughs.

I bring this up not as self-congratulation for my hilarious performance, although I'm sure I was the highlight of the show, but rather because it's true -- I do enjoy Drew Barrymore movies. Generally.

This week's romantic comedy "Going the Distance" may be the exception to the rule. It's not that it's a terrible movie, just terribly disjointed, with cute and funny moments randomly interspersed with forced raunch and language. Raunch and language aren't necessarily deal killers, but in this case they mostly seemed awkward and unrealistic. Or, as my wife suggested, maybe it was very realistic, and we just don't hang out with people who talk about their sex lives all the time. In great detail.

Barrymore is Erin, an aspiring newspaper reporter currently interning in New York and hoping for a full-time gig. Justin Long, who despite a fairly active film career over the last few years is still best known as "the Mac guy" from the popular commercials, is Garrett, a frustrated low-level music producer who hates his job and longs to represent bands with actual talent. When Garrett breaks up with the latest in a long string of girlfriends, his best pals take him out for a conciliatory drink, where he bumps into Erin, out with the girls lamenting her lack of any actual job prospects. The two hit it off and begin a whirlwind romance. The only problem is that Erin is due back at her San Francisco grad school in six weeks.

Naturally, the time flies by and when the inevitable goodbye arrives, the two decide to give a long-distance relationship a shot. Hence the dull and uninspired title. What follows is exactly what you might expect from a movie like this -- lots of mooning and sighing. Lots of scenes of the two at different clubs trying to text each other. Lots of the requisite misunderstandings, jealousy, rushed "comedic" couplings over hurried weekends. The movie even goes so far as to employ the incredibly clich phone sex gag, which falls flat.

Eventually the two will have to make a decision -- is this relationship more important than pursuing a career, or will Garrett and Erin take a leap of faith? The answer is both a little frustrating and a little satisfying, but mostly you've lost interest by the time the end finally rolls around.

"Going the Distance" suffers from a few problems that could have been fixed, and at least one that couldn't. The writing is basically mediocre -- not terrible, but not really sparkling either. There's nothing really controversial or edgy about the movie, which makes me wonder why they went for the R-rating in a film so obviously intended for a middle of the road audience. There is a lot of language, some of it graphic, but the few sex scenes show very little beyond Justin Long's behind. Most of the objectionable content feels out of place, and rather than flowing together to create a whole, realistic environment, just draws attention to how unnecessary it is.

Also problematic is that a by-the-numbers kind of rom-com such as this has very little to offer in terms of creativity, either in terms of narrative or performance. There are some genuinely funny scenes, and some very sweet ones, as well, but they are scattered. The leads are cute and kind of funny, but the supporting cast is fairly cardboard, though often funnier than the leads. Christina Applegate and Jason Sudeikis, the sister and the buddy, respectively, are very funny, very talented performers, but get only a few opportunities to prove that here. You've seen this movie dozens of times, and nothing particularly new is presented.

The one problem that couldn't be fixed, at least once production had begun, was one of casting. I've already admitted to liking Drew Barrymore, and I think Justin Long is charming, funny, and has the potential to become a good leading man. But the two together just seemed off, to me. Drew is a child of the 80s, and her wardrobe and the soundtrack do everything to remind you of that fact. Long, on the other hand, is fairly new to us, and does nothing better than epitomize a younger, tech-savvy generation. The feeling you get watching these two (who, by the way, are an actual on-again, off-again couple) is that they're actually kid brother and older sister, at best. Barrymore looks, and acts, like a woman in her late 30s, and Long can't be more than 23 or 24, right?

Wrong. I was shocked to find out, while conducting extensive research on imdb.com, that Drew Barrymore is 35 and Justin Long is 32. Wow. It's a problem of public perception rather than reality, obviously, but you can't deny the perception exists. The two seem an odd couple on scene, despite some chemistry between them.

On the whole, this isn't the movie's biggest problem, just its most nagging one. Had the writing been better or had the movie offered something new, audiences could easily forgive this somewhat disjointed love affair. As it stands, however, this movie is going to have a hard time going the distance.

Grade: C+

"Going the Distance" is rated R for language and sexual situations.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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