Drew Barrymore, Justin Long, Juliette Lewis, Christina Applegate, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis
There's something about an honest performance, isn't there?
To be sure, neither Drew Barrymore nor Justin Long are particularly brilliant actors. However, there's something quietly refreshing about their new rom-com, Going the Distance, a surprisingly gritty and honest flick featuring the two real life off again, on-again performers as an incredibly well matched couple trying to make their relationship work despite living on opposite sides of the country.
Garrett (Long) and Erin (Barrymore) meet just as Erin is wrapping up a summer long internship at a New York City newspaper and is preparing to head back to California to wrap up her final year in a post-grad program at Stanford. Garrett, on the other hand, works comfortably if not happily for a moderate sized New York City record label and has firmly planted roots in New York. What was initially supposed to be a few weeks of unattached friendship and fun, of course, manages to turn into more and as Erin flies heads out of New York City the two decide to make a go of it.
It may simply be their extreme comfort with one another or Barrymore's post-Emmy prowess as an actress, but both Long and Barrymore offer performances that are far more satisfying and emotionally resonant than one usually finds in these paint-by-number rom-coms. Working from a script by Geoff LaTulippe, both actors seem more relaxed, vulnerable and genuinely intimate than either has ever managed to offer on screen before.
At first glance, this looks like simply another dorkish slacker role for Long, who is most likely better known as an Apple pitchman than for his cinematic endeavors. Long's performance is laid back without ever feeling lazy, while his moments of intimacy and vulnerability with Barrymore are more authentic and natural than anything he's done yet. Going the Distance offers the first sure sign that Justin Long may be able to break out of his nerd/dork mold and actually forge a decent, multi-layered Hollywood career.
With her recent Emmy win for HBO's Grey Gardens, Barrymore left no doubt that she's long been capable of much deeper acting than she often chooses to display. While Going the Distance may not be a major variation on his usual rom-com efforts, Barrymore's Erin is more complex, more wounded and infinitely more interesting of a character than we usually see from Barrymore.
As Erin's protective sister and neat freak extraordinaire, Christina Applegate wrings every possible laugh out of her role, while Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis are top notch as Garrett's unusual yet endearing roommates. Kelli Garner is unfortunately wasted in a supporting role as a co-worker of Garrett's experiencing her own long-distance romance.
Award-winning documentarian Nanette Burstein's last film, American Teen, was more notable due to its surprising lack of authenticity to the point that many proclaimed the film a faux doc. While that film often felt contrived and manipulated, Burstein displays a nice balance of drama and comedy that nicely represents the true challenges of a long distance relationship while letting us laugh at the situations that manifest when two people 3,000 miles apart try to make a relationship work. It's hard to fault LaTulippe's script at all, with the possible exception of a few scenes feeling a bit outdated given the technology available these days for such long-distance experiences as "cyber sex," "texting" and such.
Eric Steelberg's camera work is pro, while Mychael Danna's original music nicely companions the film. Other tech credits are solid throughout the production.
There's nothing particularly brilliant about Going the Distance, but it does rise considerably above the usual rom-com mediocrity thanks to the comfortable, genuine chemistry between Barrymore and Long along with LaTulippe's intelligent and natural dialogue. While the story itself is relatively paint-by-numbers, this easygoing, good-hearted and spirited romantic comedy is a great end to Summer 2010.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic