2010 has been a terrible year for an already maligned romantic comedy genre, as studios continue to pair bad leading actresses with absurd high concepts, which is like pairing boxed wine with frozen Salisbury steak. They’re barely palatable and it all goes straight to your thighs. Going the Distance actually pokes its head out of the muck by offering a nugget of sincerity and surrounding the middling main narrative with outstanding supporting comedy, primarily from Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day, who has not — as was feared — been muzzled by the studio brass. He’s downright hilarious, and much of Going the Distance feels like an episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” awkwardly stitched together with a rom-com. The result is not bad. Not bad at all, really.
Just the other day, in my Say Anything review, I was ruing the fact that so few romantic comedies pair likable, good characters who are forced to make a choice between good or great, rather than a choice between simple stupidity or their over-wound libidos. Going the Distance is not even in the same league as Say Anything — it doesn’t boast any quotable lines, it sports no iconic images, and Drew Barrymore and Justin Long don’t even belong in the same. Sentence as Ione Skye and John Cusack — but it’s at least not a case where dumb characters make dumb decisions in order to maintain the film’s foundation. Like the better romantic comedies, Going the Distance merges some truth with comedy, and it nails many aspects of long-distance relationships, timely setting that relationship against the backdrop of the struggling music and newspaper business, which is what keeps the couple apart.
Erin (Barrymore) is a 31-year-old graduate student, derailed by another relationship during her 20s — now completing a summer internship. She meets Garrett (Long), an employee of a struggling music business trying to stay afloat, in a bar after bonding over a game of Centipede. They have drinks, mock each others flirtatiously and ultimately sleep together, a hookup for which Garrett’s roommate (Day) provides the soundtrack. Erin’s internship ends in six weeks, and she has to return to San Francisco, so they agree to keep it light, an agreement few have ever been able to accomplish. They fall in love, she has to go back, and they spend the rest of the film trying to make the East Coast/West Coast trip work with the occasional trip neither of them can afford, long-distance phone calls, the Internet, and an awkward attempt at phone sex.
What I appreciated about Going the Distance, though, was that writer Geoff LaTulippe didn’t insert any boneheaded contrivances to keep the narrative afloat, although, as a result, the film’s first act momentum flags to some degree during the second act. But the chemistry between the likable Long and the mostly adorable, side-mouth talking Barrymore kept the proceedings lively enough, though it’s the supporting turns from Sudeikis and Day that generate most of the fim’s comedy. And they are gold, people. It was also refreshing to see the characters talk about sex with more frankness, and considerably more profanity. It doesn’t quite compare to The Sweetest Thing, but there are a few moments of Apatowian crassness in the film, which works for the most part because it’s the kind of language you’d expect from Christina Applegate — who plays Erin’s older, protective sisters — and Drew Barrymore.
It’s not completely successful, however. There’s some mediocre marital humor, a bad running gag about dry humping, and an unnecessary fixation on Applegate’s character’s obsession with cleanliness, but it is a 2010 romantic comedy, so the occasional nods to broad humor are probably necessary for marketing purposes. Still, it’s a winning and winsome film, assuming you like the often bubbly Barrymore, though much of her flightiness is evened out to a degree by the welcome raunch.
Going the Distance is not a brilliant romantic comedy, but it’s a fun one, and at times — thanks to Sudeikis and Day — completely hilarious. Best of all, however, is that it doesn’t completely sacrifice character for laughs and even manages to squeeze in a few honest moments that will ring true to anyone who has attempted to make a long-distance relationship work.