Oscar nominated documentarian, Nanette Burstein’s Going the Distance is a romantic comedy that satisfies where most others always fail. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t shelve it as a romantic comedy; this is more of a romantic dramedy that gets why so many other romantic comedies fail to resonate. So many times throughout this movie you wait for the cliched rom-com trope to rear its face and turn it into yet another movie that could. It never happens.
Geoff LaTulippe’s script is able to separate the silliness from the serious. It doesn’t rely on coincidence or goofy anecdotes to move the story into new directions. Instead he uses real life situations and adds moments of comedy where it fits allowing the drama to serve as the story and not a series of conjured up wacky antics.
The film centers on the new relationship between Erin (Drew Barrymore) and Garrett (Justin Long). Both are in their thirties and to its credit, the film does nothing to hide this fact. Erin’s an intern at a New York newspaper and Garrett’s a talent scout for a record label, and while their relationship started out as just a fun aside it turned into something real. Unfortunately, when Erin isn’t offered a job at the end of her internship she’s forced to move back to San Francisco and instead of calling it off they decide to give the long distance relationship a try.
Long and Barrymore play off each other well, though I can’t say I was ever impressed with their performances. There was an awkward bit of back and forth between the two at times making it seem as if they were having a hard time balancing between acting techniques. Perhaps this comes as a result of Burstein’s documentary background and her seemingly random decision to occasionally use handheld camerawork for some scenes. These scenes are noticeably different from the rest as are the performances in them, particularly a dinner date between the two love birds. This, however, didn’t ruin the film for me, it was just a tiny pebble in my shoe.
Where the film shines is in the treatment of the relationship. Erin and Garrett make rational, thought out decisions. As silly as this film can get, it maintains a sense of reality solely based on the maturity of its two lead characters. Going the Distance doesn’t shy away from the fact its two leads are in their thirties and they act like it. There’s a level of life experience on display and when necessary they have their support group, and the film’s supporting cast, which is where Going the Distance reaches for its less than serious moments.
Instead of piling stupid plot developments or stupid decision making on the two leads, this is handed off to the supporting cast, primarily Garrett’s two friends Box (SNL’s Jason Sudeikis) and Dan (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” joker Charlie Day). I would even argue these guys aren’t here tossing out punchlines as much as they are just doing what guys do when they are together. Both Day and Sudeikis add necessary moments of comedy and at the same time allow the dramatic portion of the film to carry on without having to soil itself in an attempt to make jokes. Though I will say a late night sex romp on the dinner table is a definite exception.
On Erin’s side of the family you have her sister played by Christina Applegate and she’s just as funny as Day and Sudeikis. Although her character sometimes takes the storytelling to a bit of the extreme, primarily a dry-humping discussion that really isn’t needed except for a call back joke late in the film that’s only half-funny. Her husband, played by Jim Gaffigan, gets a couple laughs but most of the work falls on Applegate’s shoulders.
I won’t say this film is perfect, but that doesn’t stop it from being highly enjoyable. I had my problems with it but they aren’t problems that ruin the story. The fact this film presented a relationship comedy in which the characters weren’t required to make dumb and irrational decisions just to keep the plot moving forward won me over. It can be a bit clunky at times, but none of that takes away from the respect I have for a film where it seems the filmmakers didn’t take the audience for a group of idiots.