Film Review: Going the Distance

An aspiring journalist and a music-industry slacker discover the many downsides of long-distance romance in this formulaic comedy, which relies too heavily on the charm of stars Drew Barrymore and Justin Long.

Thirty-one-year-old Erin (Drew Barrymore), an intern at the “New York Sentinel,” let love sideline her life once and isn’t about to do it again. So while she’s game to tumble into bed with the puppyish Garrett (Justin Long), she makes it clear from the outset that she isn’t looking for lasting romance, just a little fun. She has a graduate degree in journalism to finish, a career path to stay on, and she’s going home to San Francisco in six weeks. Garrett, a low-level music-business lackey, is fine with that: Having just been dumped by another in a long string of girlfriends, he’s not looking to get his heart stomped again.

Of course, they’re so instantly adorable together that it’s a foregone conclusion that Erin and Garrett are going to fall madly in love. But Erin sticks to her guns, at least the “going home” part. So they decide to take the bicoastal-relationship route, and things quickly get complicated: Jealousy, frustration and insecurity rear their ugly heads, abetted by Garrett’s possessive pal, Box (Jason Sudeikis), and Erin’s neurotically overprotective sister, Corinne (Christina Applegate). Though Garrett’s roommate, Dan (Charlie Day, of TV’s “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”), is all for giving romance the benefit of the doubt, he’s so flat-out weird that his unstinting support goes on the liability side of the balance sheet.

But the real deal-breaker just may be work, since both Garrett and Erin are old enough to realize that nothing harshes the buzz of playing house with your soul-mate like lingering resentment over what you gave up for the privilege. Both are willing to relocate, but Garrett is loathe to give up a job he hates that’s in the business he loves, and while Erin still dreams of working for the Sentinel, they’re laying off staffers while her hometown paper, the Chronicle, is actually hiring.

The bane of 21st-century romantic comedies is finding a plausible reason that two adults who are clearly made for each other can’t be together—plausible but not gut-wrenching like, say, terminal illness. So kudos to screenwriter Geoff LaTulippe for coming up with a believably bliss-challenging combination of geography and career concerns—most adults can see how that might torpedo a potentially fine romance. Unfortunately, the premise is the only thing that really works.

Barrymore and Long are charming individuals and make a likeable couple, but they’re not especially well-cast here: She has a sly, knowing quality that’s at odds with Erin’s flakiness, and his nerdy love of Top Gun and vintage arcade games is far more convincing than the passion for music that’s supposed to define him. But what really does the film in is that so much of its dialogue is raunchy, juvenile and painfully unfunny. American Pie-style riffs on sideshow modes of self-gratification are fine in a sex farce (especially a genuinely funny one), but they’re jarring in a story supposedly driven by faith in love’s transcendent power. Note to filmmakers: Love may make fools of us all, but fools and coarse, foul-mouthed vulgarians aren’t the same thing.