Chris Day, Jason Sudeikis, Justin Long and Drew Barrymore in 'Going the Distance' (Warner Bros.)

Long-distance romances suck. You can't be with the one you love; text messages and phone calls don't make up for the loss of physical intimacy, and thousands of miles and multiple time zones often doom the relationship to failure. It's a dilemma faced by millions of teenagers entering college, as well as mature adults who've opted to divide their family temporarily so one of the parents can emigrate and seek a better life in another country.

And it happens to movie stars and likable actors, too!

Drew Barrymore plays aspiring journalist Erin (read: struggling actress) and Justin Long portrays record company drone Garrett (read: employed but unhappy lower level movie star) in Nanette Burstein's Going the Distance, an intermittently funny romantic comedy that piles on obscenities and sexual innuendo in a desperate attempt to be hip and relevant.

It might have played much better if the action were set on a college campus or off-Broadway in Manhattan. It feels like a teen comedy that was re-written to fit the ages and interests of Barrymore and Long (though that wasn't the case). Thus we have the spectacle of Barrymore as a 32-year-old journalism student interning at a fictional New York newspaper for the summer, without any reasonable hint of why it's taken her so long to try and get her career started. Is she a slacker? A ne'er do well? The survivor of a disastrous marriage? Still recovering from a childhood encounter with an alien? We have no idea.
Drew Barrymore in 'Going the Distance'And it matters because Barrymore is such a warm, friendly, slightly klutzy, completely endearing personality on screen that we want to root for her to achieve her dream of becoming a journalist. But it would help to know why she wanted to be a journalist -- a burning desire to emulate Woodward and Bernstein? to uncover corruption? to blog about celebrity gossip? -- and that she can actually do the job.

As it is, we see her pining away for a paying job, making goo-goo eyes at her editor (the stern, preoccupied Matt Servitto), but never doing the day-to-day work of a reporter: digging up leads, hitting the streets, calling sources, or even doing research on the Internet. She's earnest and sincere, yet appears to be waiting for someone to hand her a story, all fleshed out and ready to be typed up.

You might think I'm picking on a minor issue and blowing it out of proportion because I'm a writer and believe I know a thing or two about real writers. Well, let me explain: real writers (not authors who get their names on books) must write. You hope to get paid for it, so you can spend as much time as possible doing it, but even if you don't get paid for it, you write because you have to get it out of your system; you have to express that thought, preferably in written form, even if no one ever reads it.

That passion is missing from Erin, Barrymore's character. She's frustrated, she waits tables in a restaurants to make a living, but she never writes, or blogs, or scribbles in a journal, or, for goodness sake, she never even tries to freelance. Without that passion, there's no reason for her to be separated from Garrett. There's no compelling motivation for her to endure all the hardships of a long-distance love. She doesn't have to stay in San Francisco while he lives in New York. And that blows the whole movie.

Sure, there are funny scenes, including one that's flat-out genius (it involves a table), and humorous incidents, and clever bits of dialogue. Far more lines fall flat, however, and Justin Long is too plain to generate electricity on his own. Whenever he's on screen, your eyes inevitably dart to the other players. Long may be an incredibly wonderful person in real life, yet it doesn't seem to translate whenever he's exposed for more than a few minutes on film. His character also feels like he could be employed in any profession. (Acting would have been fine, and more natural, a potentially clever riff on A Star is Born.) Does music really matter to him? We get some musical mentions, but nothing that even approaches the level of intensity or devotion manifested by, oh, let's say John Cusack in High Fidelity.

Drew Barrymore and Justlin Long in 'Going the Distance'

That skews the balance of the relationship toward Barrymore, who is up to the task, except for that darn issue of motivation. If the entire movie was a wacky comedy, character motivation would be much less of an issue. If the whole movie rolled from one big laugh to the next, and if the movie's universe was an off-center alternate universe in which implausible things happened all the time, my quibbles would not come up.

But the movie's not any of those things, not consistently anyway, and so the mind has time to wander and wish for better things.

Charlie Day contributes some hilarious bits of business as Garrett's eavesdropping roommate, while Jim Gaffigan gets to deliver the funniest line in the movie, as Erin's brother-in-law. Christina Applegate appears as Erin's sister, a stuffy clean freak with a foul mouth. Jason Sudeikis is another friend of Garrett, though he's out shadowed by Day's antics; Ron Livingston is wasted as Garrett's boss.

Director Nanette Burstein comes from the documentary world (American Teen, The Kid Stays in the Picture), and perhaps the humor in the script by Geoff LaTulippe appealed to her, or maybe the idea of tackling long-distance relationships, but the result is a picture that only works in fits and starts.