REVIEWED: GOING THE DISTANCE

Going the Distance

Long and Barrymore's chemistry goes the distance.

Nanette Burnstein, the Academy Award-nominated director of On the Ropes, seems like the last person a major studio would want to hire for a big-budget romantic comedy. Odd then it is that Burnstein is in fact the perfect fit, for she tempers the threat of homogenised Hollywood trash with her own indie sensibilities to make Going the Distance an earnestly enjoyable, albeit not-so-original romp.

After a chance encounter at a bar, Garrett (Justin Long) and Erin (Drew Barrymore) quickly become besotted with each other. However, there’s a catch; Erin is leaving New York to return to California in six weeks, and so they will have to make the best of the time they have. Unsurprisingly, neither of them wants it to end when their time is up, and thus attempt to make the best of a long-distance relationship betwen Garrett’s apartment in New York, and Erin’s family’s home in California. Keeping the flame aspark will be more testing than they could ever have anticipated though, as they try to weather the crushing combination of jealously, loneliness and comprimised dreams.

Resolutely, this film works because of its cast; Justin Long is a funny man well-trained in the art of incredulity, and here he is a snug fit being bemused at the seeming insanity of every woman he encounters. Branching out a few yards from the nerd persona he has carved out in a range of films, from Accepted to Die Hard 4.0, Long retains a little of that awkward vulnerability, while also playing a far more self-assured character than usual. Here he is instead rife with commitment issues, though he still seems to do alright, given that his first girlfriend is played by the lovely Leighton Meester. The pleasantly gender-balanced narrative – which is keen to mock both male and female insecurity – also makes good on Drew Barrymore’s contributions; she is equally hard done-by, yet also brimming with chutzpah, and as a result, the pairing of two likeable, red-blooded people is, surprisingly enough, rather likeable itself.

More surprising than the talents of the cast, though, is the film’s raunchy, crude bent of humour, only a shock given how the film’s tame marketing gave little indication of this. In fact, it is brash, crass, and actually quite funny, with a lot more edge to it than you’ll expect given the glut of superficially saucy rom-coms floating around, even making some fringe rape jokes (as Barrymore’s character shouts to her friend, “Good luck being in The Accused!” as she goes to hit on some guys). Compounding the easy sell is the chemistry between Barrymore and Long, undoubtedly augmented by their real-life relationship during filming, for they appear very much at ease with each other, and their crackling dynamic carries the film further than it would otherwise go.

Burnstein’s more familiar documentary style is obviously toned way down here, but in one night time cafe scene, it is very apparent, and it really works; as Long and Barrymore eat dinner and chat like old buddies, it is like being there. It seems real, and for lack of better knowledge, it could very well have been an actual date between them. Burnstein’s indie tone and aesthetic creeps in intermitently to good effect, heighening the emotional authenticity of the romance, and staving off the film’s more conventional elements. After all, how often do you hear The Cure in a mainstream Hollywood film?

The tripartite structure of the story – they meet, they try it long distance, and then the result of that – requires Burstein to zip through the fact that the love birds have limited time together initially, adequately reflecting the characters’ own attempts to repress the fact that they only have 6 weeks together. The goodbye itself is well-dealt, nailing the soul-destroying feeling in your stomach that anyone who has been in an long-distance relationship will identify with easily. It is a whole lot more relatable than most films of its genre, and even those who have never been in such a situation will likely appreciate the consuming feeling of longing that it conveys.

Crucially, Burnstein’s film also understands the insecurities of both camps, Drew’s worries being unintentionally eked out by her sister, played by Christina Applegate, while Long, with his macho buddies, tries to uphold a bastardised form of masculinity while not doing very well. His buddies, to note, seem less forced than so many other desperate nerdy groups of men in crude comedies; they’re quirky, but funny, as is more than can be said for many recent films of the type that have attempted to ape Judd Apatow’s work. Also there is a surprising lashing of chuckles for the geeks; Drew drunkenly slags off Michael Bay, while Applegate’s hilarious husband references the self-conscious inwardness of Garden State’s soundtrack. The film equally lampoons mainstream and independent concerns, and it is all the more potent because the film is itself a comprimise between the two distinct styles.

Burnstein grasps at the anxiety of the long-distance dynamic very well; seeing other couples makes you sick, and the inherent sexual frustration of the situation, where a webcam or a phone is no substitute. Also, their attempts to wrangle a compromise between their personal and professional lives lends the film greater universality, as it is a juggling act that most everyone is going to be familiar with at some point. Ultimately through their frustration, both characters wind up being jackasses, but we sympathise because it is such a tough situation.

There are a few sketchier moments, though. The spanner in the works especially feels a tad forced for two people who are so clearly madly in love with each other; their defeatist attitude seems a touch dubious. Also, the film is distractingly plug-heavy with regard to the band The Boxer Rebellion; it feels somewhat snide alongside a few lame moments of convention, especially a tanning booth scene featuring Long which has been pilfered almost verbatim from a Friends episode, though women might appreciate seeing Long without any clothes on. It is further regrettable that the film ends fairly conventionally, but at least it is without the cheery, in-your-face adulation of a pop song and revolving-camera kiss like you’d anticipate; in fact. the ending is startlingly abrupt, ending seemingly out of nowhere.

What holds this back from being truly memorable is the lack of a more adventurous ending; how gauling would it have been for them to spend all this time and effort trying to get into the same city only to realise that they in fact miss their time to themselves, that they want to watch different movies, and hang out with different groups of people? Still, it raises a good count of solid laughs, and the acting is rock-solid.

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