Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Going the Distance

Posted on Wed, Sep 1, 2010 at 4:00 AM

Critic's Pick Going the Distance
Director: Nanette Burnstein
Screenwriter: Nanette Burnstein
Cast: Drew Barrymore, Justin Long
Release Date: 2010-09-01
Rated: NONE
Genre: Film

If absence makes the heart grow fonder, maybe it’s best to keep your relationship with Going the Distance a long-distance one. Then again, it’s tough to stay away from anything that makes you laugh and drives you crazy, isn’t it? Maybe just keep it light.

Based on the deceptively unfunny previews for the romantic comedy, it’s easy to keep one’s expectations healthy. That is: low. Doomed couple meets in New York bar, cue “adorable” wing-sauce-on-face scene, cut to couple-is-happy-on-beach scene, then the obligatory separation at airport, and over to the protagonists’ quirky buddies. Leave off with tabletop-sex-related gross-out humor.

The inventory of kooky talent present, however, makes the challenge of not committing just that: a challenge. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Charlie Day? Dear diary! Kristen Schaal of Flight of the Conchords and The Daily Show fame? Yes please. Notorious slanderer of Hot Pockets Jim Gaffigan? You betcha. Same for Drew Barrymore and Justin Long. Call me a nutter butter — you wouldn’t be the first — but I have as much hope for E.T. girl and The Mac Guy as I do for this picture’s genre. Which is a lot. No, I mean it.

Romantic comedies, at least the best ones, make us smile even as they address poignant cultural shifts pertaining to our love and sex lives. So there’s something to the bi-coastal premise of Going the Distance, what with a generation of 20- and 30-somethings less likely to settle and buy and more likely to rent anywhere they can find a gig. Lost love is just a layoff away.

It’s frustrating that Barrymore’s Erin, a journalism student from California, and Long’s Garrett, a New York A&R slave, can’t make fools of themselves finding ways to see one another more often, because the film’s funniest scenes occur when they’re together and not, as it happens, with the kooky side characters (especially Erin’s uptight sister; shades of Leslie Mann in Knocked Up). The couple’s first hookup, for example, is preceded by a round of bong-passing, during which Erin dryly confesses her deep affection for The Shawshank Redemption, prompting a stoned Morgan Freeman impression from Garrett. Their mutual attraction and sense of play — performed or not — are so genuine, you might find yourself wondering -- why can’t these hipsters just donate plasma or tighten the Brooklyn Lager budget to score some domestic plane tickets?

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