With Drew Barrymore, Justin Long, Christina Applegate, Rob Riggle, Charlie Day. Directed by Nanette Burstein. Rated R for sexual content including dialogue, language throughout, some drug use and brief nudity. 109 minutes.
GOING THE DISTANCE is not a great romantic comedy, but it is an entertaining one. More important, it doesn’t treat its female lead as if she’s an idiot whose professional success is simply proof how inadequate she is without a man. There’s a reason that it’s Drew Barrymore – rather than Kathryn Heigl or Sandra Bullock or Jennifer Aniston – who continues to have success in the genre.
The premise is pretty basic. Erin (Barrymore), who has a few miles on her, has a summer internship at a New York newspaper and hopes to make a career of it. As the movie honestly acknowledges, journalism is not a growth industry. One night at a bar she meets Garrett (Justin Long), who works for a recording company. They “meet cute” – over a video game – but soon fall for each other.
The problem? At the end of six weeks, her internship is over and she heads back to San Francisco. Can their relationship survive a distance of 3000 miles? You’ll have to see the movie to find out, but along the way, Barrymore and Long have a lot of fun trying to make it work. This is a sexy romantic comedy that’s rated R not because the guys are crude, but because both the men and the women enjoy sex… talking about it and doing it. Barrymore may be one of the few actresses who can be simultaneously bawdy and adorable. Given the readily apparent age difference – she’s got three years on him and it looks like a bit more on screen given his baby face – it’s to the credit of both actors that that never becomes an issue between them. We buy them as a couple.
Unlike the repulsive “The Switch,” which veers between tastelessness and bald attempts to tear at the heartstrings, “Going The Distance” handles both sex and romance effortlessly. In one hilarious scene, Barrymore and Long are reunited and go at it without paying close attention to who else might be in the room. This is a moment of farce, not simply snickering about sex.
The problem remains that he can’t find work on the West Coast and she can’t find it back East. Something has got to change or the relationship is doomed, which is the whole point of the movie. By film’s end, the story has to resolve the dilemma the characters face and it’s not by saying that a woman’s dreams and goals are unimportant and ought to be sacrificed for “true love.” Along the way there are plenty of laughs, from his goofy friends as well as from her uptight sister (Christina Applegate), all of whom may act silly but also display honest affection for our heroes. Where some recent romantic comedies makes you wonder why anyone would want to associated with any of these people, the off-beat characters here are more endearing than obnoxious.
The result is that in a year of one weak romantic comedy after another, it can honestly be said that “Going The Distance” does, in fact, do what the title suggests.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.