Romantic comedies are as plentiful as the rain, and no matter how many postmodern wrinkles Hollywood ever adds to the genre, it’s always gonna be the same old story: Guy and girl meet, guy and girl split, guy and girl get back together. But look! Going the Distance not only boasts an impressive cast stuffed with funny people, but it was helmed by American Teen director Nanette Burstein! Those are good signs, right?
Synopsis: Erin (Drew Barrymore) and Garrett (Justin Long) are very much in love. When Erin moves to San Francisco to finish her journalism degree and Garrett stays behind in New York to work in the music industry, they gamely keep their romance alive with webcams and frequent-flyer miles. However, just when it seems the lovers will be soon be reunited, Erin and Garrett both score big breaks that could break them up for good.
Video: Eh. You know, once upon a time, films looked like films and TV shows looked like TV shows — but these days, pretty much any time a movie like Going the Distance comes out, you can bank on it looking like an extra-fancy episode of your average sitcom. And so it goes here — Distance‘s picture is fine, with no major noticeable flaws, but there’s nothing remarkable about it; the visuals are all pretty flat, with muted colors and static shots taking up the bulk of the movie. It makes sense, given the storyline, but still — watching movies like this, you almost have to wonder whether a 1080p transfer even makes sense.
Audio: The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track carries its load with aplomb, but there isn’t much to carry. Most of the movie is dialogue-driven — which, again, makes sense. And there are a couple of musical sequences (Long’s character works for a record label) that take advantage of the space. No problems here, but on the audio as well as the video front, Going the Distance is a movie that can be experienced just as fully on a miniature screen with tinny speakers.
Special Features: Like the movie itself (more on that in a minute), the special features are a mishmash of brutally stupid crap (“How to Have the Perfect Date” and “A Guide to Long-Distance Dating” featurettes) and stuff that’s actually pretty cool (some funny deleted scenes, including a montage of improv bits). The commentary track, provided by Burstein, is kind of a wash; it’s hard not to appreciate her enthusiasm for the film, but a lot of what she has to say isn’t particularly noteworthy.
Bottom Line: If you’re going to make a romantic comedy, you need to be sure you’re giving the audience some really fantastic characters worth caring about, and you need to at least make an effort to tell your worn-out story in an interesting way. Going the Distance whiffs on both counts — neither of the main characters are all that charming, the script doesn’t give them anything really interesting to say, and you can trace the plot outline with a crayon.
After awhile, Barrymore and Long start to actively suck the energy out of the movie — something you really notice when they take over after bits from the supporting cast, because everything good about Distance comes from Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Christina Applegate, and Jim Gaffigan. By the halfway mark, I started to actively hate the Barrymore and Long characters, but that didn’t keep me from laughing at the supporting cast; the result was one of the more disjointed viewing experiences I’ve had in awhile — a lopsided mix of standard-issue, dreadfully bland rom-com crap and surprisingly funny R-rated comedy.
All in all, it made me sort of angry: why bother making another goddamn romantic comedy if you don’t have anything original to say? And why waste such a talented cast of comedians? There’s something wrong with a movie that leaves you pining for its supporting players. Perhaps the most succinct review comes from my wife, who, after the movie was over, laid her hand over the box and covered up Barrymore and Long.