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Romancing the Stones
The odd coupling of Drew Barrymore and Justin Long
by Jason Blair
GOING THE DISTANCE: Directed by Nanette Burstein. Written by Geoff LaTulippe. Cinematography, Eric Steelberg. Music, Mychael Danna. Starring Drew Barrymore, Justin Long and Christina Applegate. Warner Bros., 2010. R. 109 minutes.
Years ago, before the earth’s crust cooled, I was in a long-distance relationship. Since texting (and its racier cousin sexting) were still a gleam in a programmer’s eye, my loneliness, uncertainty and frustration were alleviated through letters and “long distance” phone calls. In its dullness, it was hardly the material of romantic comedy, a fact that someone neglected to tell Drew Barrymore and Justin Long, the two soulmates at the heart of Going the Distance.
Then again, they nailed the dull part. Going the Distance is the improbable story of Erin (Barrymore), a 31-year-old newspaper intern, and Garrett (Long), a junior executive at a record label. A recession era comedy, Going the Distance serves up joblessness with a double portion of dying industries — newspapers and albums aren’t exactly thriving — a sloppy mess underscored by the fact that we never see Erin or Garrett actually doing anything. Just as Erin decides to leave New York to return to Stanford, where she apparently attends grad school, she meets Garrett in a bar. The two connect over Centipede, a video game with serious credibility, only to fall into a largely incredible affair presented exclusively via montage. Chemistry arrives in a weirdly lit dinner scene, only to depart just as suddenly, a byproduct of the fact that Barrymore and Long exude all the intimacy of two siblings on a long road trip.
Erin returns to San Francisco, raising the possibility of a bicoastal relationship. Although Erin tends to reveal her deepest feelings by way of speeches — delivered as frantic lectures by Barrymore, who is capable of much more — the primary offender in Distance is Long, heretofore of the “I’m a Mac” commercials. Long’s combination of self-congratulatory do-gooder and verge-of-panic wimp — a condition frequently observed in the actor Michael Cera — is both grating and bound to produce a backlash, as it has in the case of Cera. Long exudes no strength, no danger, no threat of anything at all, not even a decisive moment. When Garrett finally makes up his mind to leap west, it’s too late to register an impact. At any rate, he moves to L.A. rather than San Francisco, where he’ll probably die of sunburn. If Garrett is what today’s nerds are like, give me a bully any day.
Distance will be remembered for the small but juicy bits apportioned to a number of fine comedians, including Jim Gaffigan as Erin’s brother-in-law; Charlie Day (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and Jason Sudeikis (30 Rock) as Garrett’s friends; and the surprisingly tart Christina Applegate (Married With Children) as Erin’s older sister. They all shine in this dimly lit film. Had the script utilized more of their talents, rather than relying on the coupling of Barrymore and Long — who are, incredibly, a couple in real life — Distance may have managed to go somewhere special. Instead, the romance in Distance is non-existent and the comedy is too infrequent.