Thursday, September 9, 2010

Going the Distance

I feel I must preface by stating that I, by nature, am not a lover of romantic comedies, or to clarify, not a lover of modern romantic comedies.  Hitchhiking lessons from Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert are always welcome, but unfunny wish fulfillment fantasy is hardly what I would consider a pleasurable movie-going experience, which is the sorry state of the genre.  I can do away with the jam-packed-with-stars excursions based on self-help books as well (He's Just Not That Into You; Valentine's Day); it's lazy and joyless.  Also I can do away with high concept romances starring anyone named Jennifer-- hard to believe there's been three sperm donor films this year (The Back-Up Plan, The Switch, The Kids Are All Right), and the very best one made the least amount of money; a tangent, but a regrettable one.  And so, kicking and screaming, if not literally, I ventured into the Drew Barrymore-Justin Long coupling in Going the Distance.  And with the knowledge that this isn't my preferred genre, I bit my tongue, and god forbid, actually enjoyed large chunks of it.

The plot is simple-- 31 year old Erin (Barrymore) is interning at a New York newspaper when she meets Garrett (Long), a music label whatsit, they get along fine, a little sex in between bong hits, while geeking out on video games, Top Gun, etc.  The catch is that Erin is returning to San Francisco in six weeks, and long term romance is a no go.  Of course the pair fall hard in said time, evident by the 80s soundtrack playing over a montage of the couple laughing and frolicking.  Whatever are they going to do?  After admitting feelings for each other, they timidly agree to try the long distance thing, which includes a few lame attempts at phone sex.  Of course this can't continue and variations of the careers vs. love vs. distance come into play.  Admittedly, the narrative connects the dots where we predict it to, but refreshingly, either through the good graces of the leads chemistry and a somewhat surprising honesty to recession-era folks trying hard to succeed in dying professions, which thankfully the film acknowledges (journalism?, record companies?, how early-90s?), Going the Distance doesn't feel as generic as it sounds.  The film was directed by Nanette Burnstein, who directed by The Breakfast Club reality movie with the 2008 documentary American Teen; perhaps one reason why the film feels like a direct descendant of pop films from the 80s; not a completely bad thing.

And for a high concept romantic comedy, it's not nearly as convoluted or contrived as most, or as I fear it easily could have been.  No, Justin Long doesn't have to accidentally impregnate Drew Barrymore for her to fall in love with him (I haven't seen The Switch, so perhaps I should stop being so mean, but it's too much fun.)  Instead all he has to do is be a goofy guy with a good sense of humor and nerdy tendencies-- alright there is a bit of fantasy there too, but I suppose it's made believable by the duo's real-life coupling.  For the first time since I can remember, Long actually resembles a leading man on screen, and not a poor man's Tobey Maguire.

As for Barrymore, she is simply radiant, essaying a character who acknowledges at the very beginning she's too old to be an intern, and yet impetuous enough to fall for a boy despite the grounded intelligence she invests.  She's raunchy (a smart oral sex joke is film's biggest laugh), poised and altogether graceful in a uncommon step for female maturity in a genre in sore need of it.  However, one thought kept bogging me down throughout the film; that Barrymore can do this role in her sleep, and after the last year of  terrific, soulful work in Grey Gardens, and her smart roller derby directorial debut with Whip It, I want to see more of that Barrymore, to be beholden and surprised by her in that unexpected way.  She helps veer Going the Distance off formula ever so slightly, but make no mistake, it's still a formula piece of cinematic fluff, from an actress whose shone the ability to make art.

Going the Distance does have a few notches that keep it from really going the distance, partially the supporting cast that's given lazy, irritating parts.  Disappointing since said parts are filled by charming unique actors like Jason Sudekis, Christina Applegate and Charlie Day.  It's also incredibly oddly toned in that it's an R-rated romantic comedy with PG-13 attitudes of sex.  Sure there's a few naughty conservations, it's just the film is peppered with so many f-bombs it comes across odd and distracting, and not as real, which is a shame since it's the first piece of cinematic fluff in a while that details characters fairly fluidly, not excluding financials.  B-

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...