Going the Distance

Mainstream romantic comedies generally suck. I know, because I have seen a lot of them, and they make me want to poke my own eyes out. The ones geared towards female audiences are actually worse than the Judd Apatow man-child ilk in my opinion. Although both peddle stupid stereotypes like the Career Woman, the Desperate-for-Marriage Harpy, and, my favorite, The Ice Queen, at least the guys in Apatow movies are slightly more likeable in their fallibility than the romantic leads in The Bounty Hunter, The Ugly Truth, When in Rome, and other female-skewed flicks.

Going the Distance is an interesting hybrid, and it's one I really enjoyed. And I know I'm not alone; both men and women I've talked to have also liked it, although I suspect this has more to do with age and sensibilities than gender. If you are offended by jokes about trying to perform fellatio on yourself or dry-humping, or if you don't watch YouTube videos of animals being ridiculous, maybe you should take a pass on this film.

The story itself is not particularly new, but it's been updated for the 21st century. Last time I was in a long-distance relationship, we didn't have YouTube, much less any sneezing pandas to laugh at together late at night on our cell phones. I emailed him using PINE and dial-up. It was a nightmare. And texting? Let me dig up my old campus phone call bills for you.

Going the Distance isn't just about LDRs but about how they've changed with technology, the current economy, and our attitudes towards sex, love, and careers. The fact that it starts with a one-night stand and turns into a relationship is still radical in some circles. People still think that one-night stands are for "sluts," no matter how much proof there is that plenty of people do the deed and enjoy it guilt-free or that such a thing can become something more if both parties are interested.

Geoff LaTulippe's script is delightfully dirty, and it's not raunchy just for the sake of it, like Screwballs or other sex comedies, but because it's how people of a certain generation talk. Yes, it's true; that scene when Erin (Drew Barrymore) jokes about how guys peek up during going down is pretty dead-on. And when Garrett (Justin Long) shows up at the restaurant where she's working and offers her a tip and she squeals, "The tip of your penis?!" she says it with the perfect combination of excitement, naughtiness, and childlike pleasure at her own boldness.

I'm honestly not sure that without Barrymore and what I assume is her input to the creative process the movie would have worked quite as well. Her chemistry with real-life boyfriend Justin Long is great, and the supporting cast of funny, sharp folks like Christina Applegate, Jason Sudeikis, and love-him-or-hate-him Charlie Day round it out nicely. Applegate's role as the overprotective sister could have easily slipped into the shrieky, slightly shrewy character that Leslie Mann played in Knocked Up, just as Barrymore's Erin could have tipped into Manic Pixie Girl territory. Very few other actresses could have managed to walk that tightrope and come out on the other side intact.

Going the Distance isn't without its faults. The writing can be a bit flat and sitcom-like at times, and it is definitely dude-centric. This isn't about Erin going the distance; this is about Garrett's emotional journey. Erin is, without a doubt, the dream girl for a certain subset of guys. She plays video games, she drinks and plays dart with the boys, and she gives Garrett a hard time at first before opening up to him fully. Like I said, I don't think that anyone but Barrymore could have pulled this off, and that has a lot to do with her own warmth and personality off-camera. I have no trouble believing that she would say and do a lot of the things in the movie, and that her relationship and chemistry with Long is part of what we're seeing. Plus, she appeals to women, perhaps even more than she appeals to men.

Interestingly enough, their respective careers and the economy are what divide them. That's another big issue when it comes to love these days. How much do we give up of our dreams -- or security -- to follow, or even make time for, love? On the other hand, to go the distance for love, you have to make sacrifices, right? Even though Garrett is looking for jobs in San Francisco, he doesn't tell Erin about it, and I would think a character like Erin would have blown up much earlier at his expectation that she leave San Francisco instead of vice versa. Although they're both smart and tech-savvy, neither seem particularly open-minded towards how to make a living outside of the system.

As Peter Martin points out, Erin could write anywhere, although the prestige of a famous paycheck and reliable paycheck are certainly tempting. But isn't giving all that up the second round of her putting her dreams on hold for a guy? Garrett could also branch out and make some of his own sacrifices to make the relationship work; as it is, his final journey is still fairly self-serving and brings him to Los Angeles.

Although the movie thankfully avoids the airport ending, and it does manage to balance both characters finding their own way to professional happiness, the title itself implies that they will go the distance. The commercials might try and trick you into believing they might not, but the title says it all. But do they really? On the other hand, should they? These are questions only you can answer for yourself.

Technology, the economy, our willingness to futz around or put long-term relationships on hold is a big part of how men and women relate to each other today. (I wouldn't presume to speak for LGBTQ relationships.) Going the Distance admirably tackles these huge subjects and makes them funny and touching and smart, which, despite its faults, puts it way ahead of other comedies about love and friendship for both men and women.

[Full disclosure: I wrote about Going the Distance for the Bust Fall Preview and interviewed Justin Long, who elaborated on the creative process between director Nanette Burstein and Barrymore to get the script slightly more female-friendly.]