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Entries in Going the Distance [2010] (1)

Saturday
Dec252010

Going the Distance (2010) Home Video Review

Stale Mates

Screenwriter Geoff La Tulippe and director Nanette Burstein found a new way to liven up the bland romantic comedy: the word “fuck”.  In their film Going the Distance, characters drop f-bombs like Coalition forces; I guess, in an effort to convince themselves that they’ve created entertainment for and about adults.

I’m no prude.  I am a firm believer in the well-placed expletive, though, and when I hear grown-up dialogue that sounds like it’s coming from tweens whose parents have just dropped them off at the bus stop, I get antsy.  There’s an art to profanity—refer to the works of ribald Rembrandts Quentin Tarantino and David Mamet for examples.  At its best, harsh language can elevate dialogue to quotable pop poetry; at its worst, carelessly tossed-off shock words can sink an entire movie in just a few lines.

Here’s a good example.  In the film, Erin (Drew Barrymore) learns that she didn’t get a staff job at a New York newspaper, which means she won’t be able to move to the Big Apple to live with her long-distance boyfriend Garrett (Justin Long).  She takes the news badly, and has a drunken fit (one of two big ones) in which she says something to the effect of, “I didn’t get the fucking job at the fucking newspaper, so now I can’t go to fucking New York to be with my fucking boyfriend.”  It’s an embarrassingly low-rent tirade, especially for a journalist (even an intoxicated one).

Am I being too critical?  Maybe.  Nah, actually, I don’t think so.  I have to talk about something in this bleakly generic rom-com, and the swearing sticks out like a sore thumb—along with Justin Long’s ass, which we get to see a lot of during the unfunny tanning booth scene and the famous sex-on-the-dining-room-table scene (famous ‘cause it was the trailer’s main selling point; not because of quality).  We get it, Justin.  You’re not just the hipster nerd from the Mac commercials, you’ve also got a smokin’ hot body.  Can you please put it away now?

Now let’s look at Going the Distance as a love story.  Do the leads have chemistry?  Absolutely.  The best parts of this film are the hand-held interstitials showing Erin and Garrett on a series of dates.  These musical montages show a couple falling in love, and I’d bet that Burstein simply filmed Long and Barrymore (who were a real-life couple at the time of shooting) hanging out, independent of the movie they were making.  Sadly, it’s when we can hear their dialogue that the movie dives off a cliff.

This is the kind of chick flick where the women are either dowdy, career-driven losers, stay-at-home-moms or sexpots; and where guys spend every moment of free time at sports bars talking about Man Stuff and trying to pick up girls—rounded out by a couple of old-as-Moses gay jokes, of course.  Erin’s overprotective sister Corinne (Christina Applegate) immediately dislikes Garrett, as does her husband Phil (Jim Gaffigan).  Corinne thinks Garrett is a lout and a flake (rightfully so), and Phil sees his romanticism as a threat to the do-nothing suburban dad life he’s carved out for himself.  If this makes Garrett sound like a mold-breaker, consider the opening scene where his girlfriend dumps him because he “misread the signals” and didn’t get her a birthday present; it’s a jackass move that no real man would ever make, but it’s nothing that can’t be resolved by a trip to the bar with the guys—where he meets Erin a few hours later.

The sexism goes deeper as we spend most of the movie wondering why the hell the burden of moving across the country falls on Erin’s shoulders and not Garrett’s.  We don’t see a single conversation in their four-plus-month relationship in which Garrett volunteers to quit his shitty record-label job and move out to California; when it finally does come up, he all but balks at the ridiculousness of giving up his cozy life; Erin puts up a fight for about forty-five seconds before caving in and deciding to rough it in New York (in doing so, she turns down a promising staff job at The San Francisco Chronicle).

Towards the end of the movie, Garrett realizes—with the help of some sage words from Corinne—that he’s been a selfish jerk, and that it’s unfair for him to ask Erin to move to New York.  So they break up.  Oh, don’t worry: they get back together at the end, after Garrett quits his shitty record-label job and becomes the manager of an L.A. band; I guess the lesson is that if you’re non-committal and selfish enough to let your relationships dissolve over absolutely nothing, eventually all your dreams will come true (this axiom applies to men only).

Going the Distance is neither romantic nor comedic in its execution.  It’s the same market-tested, easy pabulum that we’ve seen for twenty years, distinguished only by characters that lack any sense of self-esteem and empathy—and its precious four-letter words.  The long-distance relationship hasn’t received too much play in this arena, but this is not the film to resurrect the sub-genre.  Erin and Garrett complain that they’ve only been able to see each other forty days out of their four months together.  That averages out to about once every three days (by contrast, for the first three years that my wife and I dated, we lived three hours apart, and saw each other maybe twice a month).  I wish someone had pointed out that there are new couples living in the same city that can’t manage that kind of time together.  But as with most modern, supposedly romantic movies, Going the Distance has nothing to do with the lives of real people; it’s a popcorn fantasy designed to keep the battle of the sexes raging forever, securing a bright future for films of its ilk.