Ah, modern romance!
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, September 3, 2010
"Going the Distance" is a movie in the tradition of "American Pie" and "There's Something About Mary." It's filthy, funny and kind of sweet, if not quite up to the level of Judd Apatow's oeuvre in the burgeoning field of R-rated comedies with heart. You will laugh and blush in equal measure.
You will not, however, read any of its best lines here, as they are all unprintable, at least in a family newspaper.
What I can tell you is this: Drew Barrymore and Justin Long make one cute couple. Whether or not the actors' on-again-off-again real-life romance helped their performances as lovers frustrated by geography -- he's in Manhattan, she's in San Francisco -- it's clear they have chemistry. E.T.'s girlfriend and the Mac Guy ooze a laid-back, goofy charm through their pore-less skin. They're a modern-day Hepburn and Grant.
This serves them well in the first fictional feature from documentarian Nanette Burstein ("American Teen"), working from a script by fellow newcomer Geoff LaTulippe. Yeah, the story is written by a guy -- that's obvious from all the jokes about autoeroticism, irrational girlfriend behavior and going to the bathroom with the door open -- but Burstein brings a wise, gentle touch to the proceedings. There's a tenderness that softens even the crudest moments. And the warmth of the stars would smooth over any beginning filmmaker's missteps.
When record-company flunky Garrett (Long) meets newspaper intern Erin (Barrymore) one summer in New York, there's no expectation that the relationship will go anywhere. He's on the rebound, having just broken up with someone that night. And she's about to leave town to return to journalism school on the West Coast. It's just a fling, right?
Not in the movies.
This one is no exception. Cue the marijuana-induced, millennial-generation bonding -- OMG, "License to Ill" is, like, the awesomest album ever! -- followed by a standard-issue falling-in-love montage featuring surf frolicking. Fast-forward to the airport, where they suddenly announce that they're crazy about each other.
Crazy is right.
Neither makes enough money to visit more frequently than once every few months. So, between the occasional rutting-filled holiday weekend, they have to resort to phone sex, late-night Skype-ing and texting each other every five minutes, much to the annoyance of Garrett's friends, played, with deadpan hilarity by "Saturday Night Live's" Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia." Christina Applegate and Jim Gaffigan round out the excellent supporting cast, as Erin's germophobic big sister and her jaded husband, who take in Erin while she's finishing her studies -- and who, in one indelible scene, catch the two lovebirds having sex on their dining room table. The sight of Long's bare buttocks, stamped with his own handprint as the result of a spray-on tanning accident, is one I will not soon forget.
Such are the conventions of the modern romantic comedy. Get used to it, I say, or give up on the genre.
But maybe not just yet. What is perhaps most surprising about "Going the Distance" is not its contemporaneity. Sure, it's filled with the pot jokes, casual hookups and the glorification of prolonged adolescence so common to the Apatovian canon. But in its heart of hearts, it's as old-fashioned as they come.
Contains graphic sexual humor, frequent obscenity, sensuality, brief nudity and drug use.