Record company minion Garrett (Long) breaks up with one girl and meets wannabe journo Erin (Barrymore). They begin a whirlwind romance in NYC, but soon she must return to San Francisco. Conflicting advice ringing in their ears, the pair decide to try the long-distance thing.
Given the plastic standard of many 2010 rom-coms — step forward Valentine’s Day, The Back-Up Plan, When In Rome — Going The Distance feels even more like a breath of fresh air, casting it in the mantle of this year’s (500) Days Of Summer as a quirky, entertaining lovefest you can get behind. It may not shake all its movie-movie roots, but it gives the impression of having one foot in real life, real relationships and real romantic dilemmas.
Most of this quality of recognition comes from Geoff La Tulippe’s script, a former entry on the Black List, Hollywood’s run-down of hottest unproduced screenplays. There is no crazy meet-cute — our couple bond over the Caterpillar arcade game and Top Gun — and no overwrought plot machinations to break them up/get them back together again. Instead, for the most part, our couple have pokey living arrangements, struggle at admittedly good jobs and angst over the pangs of being apart. This is also a rare rom-com where the characters talk about, and even have, sex.
Director Nanette Burstein, best known for fizzy documentary American Teen, adds lots of -Sundance-y tics and traits, from animated title sequences, split-screens and montages to The Cure and iPhone messages popping up on screen (to prove this is a modern romance, Erin and Garrett share YouTube clips of pandas sneezing). It’s the kind of film where the hardest-working crew-member is the Music Supervisor (bravo Dana Sano!), populating the soundtrack with more guitar alt-rock than a Lauren Laverne session.
Yet the movie doesn’t go full indie, both in tone (the lame title is a clue) and its need to cling on to modern rom-com staples. Garrett (Justin Long) has a gaggle of slacker-esque Best Friends designed for a) comic relief and b) to show the sincerity of the hero, and Erin (Drew Barrymore) has a similar foil in her big sis, broadly played by Christina Applegate. Further, the film can’t resist indulging in The Gross Comedy Set-Pieces That People Will Talk About gambit kick-started by American Pie and represented here by sex-on-a-dining-room-table shenanigans.
Yet Going The Distance’s MVP’s are its two leads. An on-off pair in the real world, Long and Barrymore have an easy chemistry and make for an authentic winning couple, Long oozing charm in a rare lead and Barrymore doing her she’s-your-girfriend-but-also-your-mate thang to a tee. In addition, it’s a great showcase for one of cinema’s unsung pleasures: Drew Barrymore’s dirty cackle. Long may it ring out.
If it is at times a bit indie-by-numbers without the courage of all its convictions, this is a grittier, saltier than usual rom-com populated with laughs, smarts and a couple you can root for.