Monday, September 13, 2010

"Going the Distance"

(Note: I have never once intentionally harmed a dog. I just thought that needed to be said.)

Remember when the romantic comedy was a big staple of the movie calendar? When actresses like Julie Roberts and Meg Ryan dominated the box office on a regular basis? When a date movie could (potentially) keep both members of a dating couple from wanting to jump off a very high cliff? Anybody? No? Well, I do. Judge me if you want but I used to quite like the (good) romantic comedy and would still count at least one (“When Harry Met Sally”) among my top 25 favorite movies of all time. Sadly, though, enjoyable romantic comedies have fallen by the wayside, replaced by brainless “girls night out” fodder (see: “The Back Up Plan” and “The Bounty Hunter”) that no self-respecting male could sit through, and depressing “real” love stories that leave everyone contemplating suicide (see: “The Notebook”). With all that in mind, I had relatively high hopes for “Going the Distance” and wanted oh so badly to give a solid account of its merits. Unfortunately, however, I’m not quite able to do so.

“Going the Distance” centers around Garrett (Justin Long) and Erin (Drew Barrymore), both early thirty-somethings currently living in the Big Apple. Garrett is your typical commit-a-phobe with a hip job in the music industry while Erin is the classic late bloomer, a 31-year-old working as an intern during the summer break from grad school at Stanford. When they meet, Garrett is (literally) just coming out of another failed relationship and Erin is headed back to California in six weeks. With these facts in mind, the two decide to keep the relationship casual as neither is interested in a long distance relationship. You see where this is going, right? Sure enough, they find themselves falling for each other and when Erin does return home, she and Garrett go against their better judgment and embark on that most dreaded of romantic journeys. What follows is a series of cross country trips, melancholy phone conversations, and a lot of woe-is-meing about the place, broken up by some well-placed levity at the hands of a solid supporting cast. The inevitable will-they-or-won’t-they produces a relatively satisfying conclusion that is part “The Break Up” and part “Runaway Bride.”

My wife and I have been married for a little over a year and dated for about a year before that. In that time, I can think of exactly one romantic-themed movie that both the Lady of the Box Office and I both really enjoyed; that being last year’s “500 Days of Summer.” Every other “chick flick” we’ve watched has either been unanimously hated or has caused me to strangle a puppy. (A lot of dogs have died in my neighborhood. I blame Hollywood. “Bride Wars” led to a string of incidents.) With “Summer” being the lone exception, there have been decidedly few adult-oriented romantic stories to hit theaters during our relationship and I think that’s ridiculous. “Distance” tries its hardest to fill that void but simply falls short of what it possibly could have been (or at least what I wanted it to be).

“Distance” is entertaining enough to keep the audience’s attention and definitely steers clear of the depressing territory that has marked a number of the recent romance movies that have crossed my path. Justin Long is a favorite of mine, an actor whose talent will probably never be quite appreciated because he’s been pigeon-holed into the type of too-smart-for-his-own-good underdog that he routinely plays. He takes Garrett as far as the material will let him but in all truth, this is one of the most limited leading characters in recent memory. There’s just nowhere for Garrett to go and he doesn’t seem to click with the supporting characters, which is a shame because they are each, in their own right, quite strong. Jason Sudiekis (“Saturday Night Live”), Charlie Day (“Always Sunny in Philadelphia”), and stand-up comic Jim Gaffigan all take on one dimensional characters to be sure but all shine in their one dimension while Long seems to flounder in his. Barrymore, too, feels lost in a character that doesn’t have much room for growth and doesn’t quite connect with those around her. She seems miscast, as well, coming across as desperate to be young. It’s not that Long and Barrymore don’t have chemistry; it’s that their chemistry is very shallow and they don’t mesh with the rest of the cast.

The real issue I have with “Distance” is its immaturity and lack of polish. It doesn’t play out as the “romantic comedy for adults age 25-45” that was advertised, but instead a teen movie that was hastily turned into something adults might want to see. “Distance” feels like some studio executive got ahold of a script for “90210”, aged the teenagers by 15 years, packed it with R-rated language, and marketed it to adults. And therein lies the problem. None of the characters, especially Erin, act like normal, human adults. They get thrown into adult situations but handle them like idiotic pre-teens. If you’re going to make a romantic comedy about adults and target an adult demographic, then maybe the adult audience should be able to relate to the adult characters. (That seems like sound logic to me, I’m just sayin’.) The result is a mismatched RomCom that entertains in the first act, falls apart in the second, and delivers a fitting finish that doesn’t do much to assuage the frustration of the movie as a whole.

It’s not that I disliked “Distance.” I laughed quite a lot (particularly in the first 40 minutes or so) and had no urge to inflict any harm on an animal (you’re welcome, PETA). And maybe that’s all I should have asked of this movie. But seriously, for those of us who are too old to care about “The Last Song”, too intelligent to sit through “Nights in Rodanthe”, and too young to understand “It’s Complicated”, it sure would be nice to have a decent date movie come around.

Grade: B-

I almost always misspell “intelligence”,

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