THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"GOING THE DISTANCE"
Anyone who's ever been in a long-distance relationship will tell you that it's pretty much torture. It sounds easy at first ("We'll talk on the phone! We can e-mail and Skype! I'll come visit you!"), but the reality is far more complicated, oftentimes in ways you couldn't even begin to imagine. The combination of being "together" but still alone creates a cognitive dissonance that can drive you bonkers. This is the lesson learned by Garrett (Justin Long) and Erin (Drew Barrymore) in the romantic comedy Going the Distance, now available on DVD and Blu-Ray.
He's a record label employee who can't fully commit to a relationship. She's in New York doing a summer internship at a newspaper. They meet, she turns out to be the girl of his dreams, et cetera and so on. When the internship ends without the promise of steady employment, she has to go back to L.A. They resolve to keep the relationship going via visits and, uh, phone sex. However, the miles between them make it difficult to maintain the sense of closeness they initially shared. There's also pressure from outside sources. Erin's sister Corinne (Christina Applegate) doesn't want to see her get hurt, while Garrett's pals, Dan (Charlie Day) and "Box" (Jason Sudeikis), think it's silly to date a woman on the other side of the country when he could be hooking up with women in New York.
I'll say one thing for Going the Distance: in a time when most romantic comedies are trite and predictable, this one at least tries to deal with an actual relationship hurdle. That alone makes it more watchable than some of the other rom-com crap we've had to endure in 2010. (I'm talking to you, When in Rome. And Leap Year. And Life as We Know It.) This is a solid foundation on which to build a genuine story about romance. Lots of people can relate.
To some degree, the picture succeeds. Barrymore and Long, once an off-screen couple as well, have believable chemistry together. I bought their characters' feelings for each other, and their desire to not let the relationship fizzle out felt sincere. For the most part, director Nanette Burstein (American Teen) and screenwriter Geoff LaTulippe keep things grounded in reality. There isn't a lot of the contrived wackiness that mars many romantic comedies. Going the Distance is more character- and situation-driven, rather than gag-driven.
The movie doesn't go far enough, though. It seemed to me that there were a lot more things the story could have mined, and anyone who's ever been in a long-distance relationship will probably feel that way too. Because it's a comedy, Going the Distance seems to pull back from showing the harshest realities; it's intent to keep the situations shallow enough so as not to kill the buzz. I'm not saying the film needed to be a downer, but a little more emotion and "grit" could have taken this from a decent-enough romantic comedy into something much more meaningful and lasting. To understand what I mean, take a minute to imagine what James L. Brooks or Cameron Crowe might have done with this material. Stories such as this one always resonate when they reach into our hearts and minds a little more deeply. I wish the over-abundance of raunchy (but admittedly funny) humor had been replaced by some added depth.
Again, I give Going the Distance props for at least trying to deal with something recognizable. While not a great film, it certainly is worth a look, for its admirable approach to the rom-com genre and for the winning performances from the cast.
( 1/2 out of four)
Going the Distance is available on DVD or in a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack. The bonus features begin with an audio commentary from director Nanette Burstein. There are also about 12 minutes of deleted scenes, including alternate takes of Day and Sudeikis improvising a conversation in a bar. Also deleted was a rather humorous payoff to a scene in which Garrett and Erin engage in a little kitchen foreplay.
"How to Have a Perfect Date" features the cast members offering facetious dating advice (e.g. don't fart on a first date). More substantive is "A Guide to Long-Distance Dating" in which the actors discuss their own experiences with trying to keep a relationship going across the miles. All of them admit to having been through it, so the segment rings a little more true than the first one does.
"Off the Cuff" is a montage of the stars ad-libbing R-rated takes on various scenes. It's interesting, but you can see how some of their improvs would have seemed out of place with the movie's tone. Finally, there is a behind-the-scenes soundtrack feature interviewing British band The Boxer Rebellion, whose music provides a key plot point. The video for their song "If You Run" is also included.
Going the Distance is rated R for sexual content including dialogue, language throughout, some drug use and brief nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 43 minutes.