Film Review – Going the Distance

Even if nothing else had worked in Going the Distance, I would have had to thank the film for its lead female character, and in particular for her introductory scene. Running down the hallway at work, her first line of dialogue is an outburst of profanity as she hurts herself; the second, a snarky aside to a co-worker who points out her lateness. Swearing and sarcasm: a girl after my own heart.

Drew Barrymore is Erin, an aspiring reporter who, at 31, is a bit old for her summer internship at a New York newspaper, and knows it. Upset over having a piece harshly reviewed, she and a co-worker go out to get wasted. At the bar, Erin meets-cute over a Centipede game with Garrett (Justin Long, lovable despite rocking what is essentially a bowl cut). Garrett’s just been dumped by his girlfriend for inadvertent birthday-related insensitivity. In fairness to him, a woman should never say that she doesn’t want a gift if she does. (I’m unclear, though, on whether this has ever happened outside of film and television.) The two hit it off, obviously.

What starts as a nice, cathartic one-night stand turns into breakfast, which turns into negotiation, which turns into what the two figure will essentially be a six-week stand, until Erin leaves to finish her grad degree at Stanford. Somewhere in the middle of a mostly tongue-in-cheek montage of perfect dates, things get serious enough that they decide to give a long distance relationship a go, banking on Erin landing a job in New York after graduation.

From here, there are no surprises in store as to what obstacles Erin and Garrett will face or where the plot will go in general. Erin’s older sister Corinne (Christina Applegate, who I adore) expresses typical older-sister-character skepticism. Garrett’s buddies (Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day) go about being single buffoons while Garrett looks on. The texting and Skyping and whatnot make up another montage. Masturbation jokes are made. We wait for the impending visit to California that will bring about the usual sorts of hijinks.

Luckily, the dialogue is so funny, and the cast we’re watching play out these beats (also including Jim Gaffigan as Corinne’s husband and Ron Livingston as Garrett’s boss) is so skilled and likable, that I remained entertained despite the predictability. Erin and Garrett are characters you want to root for, and Erin in particular is written with the sort of real, three-dimensional personality that I always hope to see for a female character in a comedy, and so rarely do. Drew Barrymore goes all out in the role, and I can’t say how refreshing it is to see a woman presented as someone who can swear and tell dick jokes and be passionate about her career, and not be considered automatically deficient in the “ability to have a boyfriend” department because of all that.

Sure, some more originality in the plot would have been nice, and the movie is more a collection of scenes than a story with progression that builds from scene to scene. But each outlandish, seen-it-before set-up (the spray tanning gone wrong, the caught-in-the-act sex scene) works better than it truly should, because of the strength of the characters, actors, and dialogue. The raunch factor will probably make comparisons to the humor of The Hangover inevitable, but honestly, give me Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day over Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis any day. And while the script may not explore new territory, it nicely sidesteps a couple of romantic comedy clich├ęs that drive me nuts, and for that I give it even more leeway.

Screenwriter Geoff LaTulippe and director Nanette Burstein have constructed a pleasing scenario filled with characters that were genuine to me in a way that I haven’t felt in a comedy since Forgetting Sarah Marshall. The film may have flaws, but it is one that I know I will watch again and appreciate.

Final Grade: B+

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Brandi is one of those people who worries about kids these days not appreciating black and white films. She also admires great moments of subtlety, since she has no idea how to be subtle herself.

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