Friday, September 3, 2010

Going the Distance

Romantic comedies are far from my favorite genre. The cream of the crop are passable at best, and for the rest, well, just take a look at Kate Hudson's filmography sometime. Perhaps it's because the bar is set so low that Going the Distance finds a way to be a halfway decent, and at times even funny, entry into the genre.

The story focuses on the burgeoning relationship between low-level record company exec Garret (Justin Long) and waitress Erin (Drew Barrymore) which is put on indefinite hold when Erin's internship working for a major metropolitan newspaper ends and she leaves New York for San Fransisco.

The film follows a similar plot to many romantic comedies but I'll give the script by Geoff LaTulippe credit for at least taking some effort to minimaze the "cute" insanity most of these films are known for. Almost all of the struggles and fights the lovers have over the course of the film comes from problems arising out of the nature of their long-distance relationship rather than your usually gluttony of bets, misunderstandings, missed connections, ghosts former loves, curses, or other nonsense roadblocks only couples in romantic comedies ever find themselves faced with.

That's not to say the film steers completely out of harms way. There are a couple of scenes involving attractive co-workers (Kelli Garner and Oliver Jackson-Cohen) that present just the kind of simplistic temptation and jealousy the film that says it wants to deal with more difficult themes could do without. Although the script does allow these pieces of the story to grow, it knows enough to bring out the weed-eater before things get too sticky.

Although Long and Barrymore don't have sizzling on-screen chemistry they do make a nice couple. And I'm even willing to forgive their meet-cute over a game of Centipede. The story focuses much more on an honest relationship instead of attempting to give us the one-of-a-kind burst into song movie love found so often in similar films. The result is far less sappy (at least until the last act trots out the basic lessons our characters should learn about life and love), if still a bit too silly, than I was expecting.

Even with a cute couple and some funny moments, Going the Distance is still plagued with several problems of its genre. Garret and Erin's first date is sickeningly cute, as is most of their early montaged relationship. We're also stuck with awkward comedic sidekicks as friends for him (Charlie Day, Jason Sudiekis) and an overbearing sister for her (Christina Applegate). That's not to say these actors are bad, or they don't add something to the film - they do. Most of the film's most bizarre and funniest moments (the philosophy of a 70s mustache, some awkward bedroom conversation through the wall, and the open door bathroom policy) come from them, and not our leads. I just wished they were a little less one-note and not written as thin as single-ply toilet paper.

Even if there are some genuinely funny moments, there are also plenty that should be funnier, including a tanning session and the obligatory embarrassing walk-in on a couple having sex (twice). Then there's the litany of juvenile humor on everything from phone sex to dry humping. I'm not sure if the film was written to be romantic and the crude humor was added later or vice-versa, but half of these Apatow-aping moments fall just on the wrong side of weird or raunchy.

I'll give it a slight pass because the story has heart and takes an effort to say something about long-distance relationships (when it doesn't get in its own way). I have no doubt you can find a better film, or more honest dramedy on the subject of long-distance relationships just browsing through Netflix, but for a formulaic romantic comedy it puts forth more than most.

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