Going the Distance: Destination known

By Shu ChiangMovies - 02 September 2010 10:07 AM | Updated 11:42 AM

Going the Distance: Destination known

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3 stars out of 5

It may sound pat, but this is a romantic comedy that doesn’t quite go all the way.

It takes the basic ‘Meet Cute’ premise – cute boy meets cute girl – and gives it modern, recession-era twist. The obstacles here are not the myopia or pride of the protagonists, or an initial dislike.

In fact, it doesn’t take long for wannabe journalist Erin (Drew Barrymore) and record label executive Garrett (Justin Long) to find each other irresistible, albeit under the influence of alcohol.

The problem here is distance – he’s a New York guy, she’s a San Francisco gal – and less than enviable personal finances in this economy. They can’t afford to uproot and be with each other, on either coast, at the expense of a paying job.

So give up and hang on? Is this true love facing its one big test or is this just lust-fuelled or desperation-induced intransigence playing out?

Being a comedy, even one that claims to be ‘more real’ than others of this ilk, these issues of distance in a relationship – ironically in a modern world that seems ‘smaller’ thanks to technological connections like online social networking and video calls – are explored in superficial terms or in ways that lead inevitably to scripted humour.

Even in the knowledge that Long and Barrymore could, maybe, perhaps, actually be dating at the moment – as the marketing  campaign and media have been hinting – the fact is that one never buys Erin and Garrett as a couple.

The initial falling-in-love sequence is brutal.

Long, a likeable actor in comedic roles (such as this year’s Youth in Revolt), is getting cast as a more grown-up romantic lead in He’s Just Not That Into You and now this. But in looks and demeanour, he’s no leading man; he’s just not that charming or funny this way.

Watching Erin crack up at his jokes about tortellini and one-night stands, one wonders if she’d inhaled laughing gas or smoked some mood-altering medicinal herbs – or was just being really polite.

Incredibly, Erin and Garrett fall for each other. Later, kept apart for long periods, they are predictably randy when one or the other visits, leading to comedy hijinks such as an in flagrante routine involving a dining room table.  

There is also a tired spray-tan gag that has long been exhausted of comic possibilities ever since Ross ended up darker than a Latin man in the sitcom Friends.

As a romance, Going the Distance may lack credibility. As a comedy, however, it has its moments, particularly when Barrymore starts swearing like a sailor and talking in as unfiltered a way as characters in Judd Apatow movies do.

When it comes to profanity, not everybody can pull it off; Barrymore does it with aplomb, as does Kristen Schaal (Flight of the Concords) in a bit part.

At the end of the day, out of a whole movie that has ‘romantic’ moments and mildly humorous moments, one largely remembers only Barrymore’s potty mouth and supporting actress Christina Applegate for her clever turn as Erin’s protective and caustic sister.

It could have been more rude, and enjoyable, as a comedy; or it could have been played straight, with humour arising from plausible, real-life situations.

Instead, it pulls its punches and doesn’t go all out in either direction, which takes us into safe and forgettable territory. After you leave the cinema, memories of this film will drift out of your head and be going, going, gone before long.


About Shu Chiang

Yong Shu Chiang, otherwise known as SC, is a freelance editor and writer. He reviewed movies for Juice magazine when he was in college, and was the resident film reviewer for Today Newspaper from 2003 to 2005. He has also reviewed movies for Prime Time Morning on Channel NewsAsia.