Going The Distance is the fiction feature debut from documentary filmmaker Nanette Burstein, director of the great Robert Evans docu-biopic The Kid Stays In The Picture (2002) and the bizarre, visually impressive but seemingly staged American Teen (2008). It’s a film that’s both refreshing and frustrating in equal measures, one that clearly benefits from the chemistry between its two leads yet is always ready to succumb to convention and unnecessarily broad comic set pieces.
Ostensibly dealing with the difficulties in negotiating a long-distance relationship, the film boasts natural and tenderly observed performances from both Drew Barrymore and Justin Long (a real-life on/off couple) who meet over an arcade game in a New York bar on the night Long is dumped by his girlfriend. The early part of the film works best as they meet and resolve not to fall in love after their initial one night stand. She’s going to be heading back to California to finish her graduate degree, and doesn’t want to start anything serious, and having just ended a relationship himself he’s inclined to agree. Inevitably this doesn’t go to plan, and after just a few weeks in each other’s company they decide to make a go of the fledgling relationship, irrespective of the geographical problems involved.
The time we spend with the pair of them alone is great, and their banter is both naturalistically funny and unforced. It’s when we’re introduced to those rom-com staples, the flatmates/best friends (his) and the girlfriends/confidantes (hers, and in this case sister) that the laughs become broader and ring less true.
It’s as though Burstein can’t quite decide on the tone of her picture. For every nicely-judged observation on the different ways men and women respond to the same situation, we’re offered a ‘comedy’ spray-tan scene, or some coitus-interruptus on the dining room table, even an old lady/masturbation gag. One scene aims for Woody Allen, the next for Will Ferrell.
That’s not to say there’s not a fair bit to like. An early scene where Barrymore arrives back at Long’s flat for the first time, only to discover his flatmate playing mood music for their benefit through the paper-thin walls is pretty funny “I’m sorry, I know, just because I can hear doesn’t mean I’m allowed to participate”, and Long’s explanation of his love for Tom Cruise movies “well, all homo-erotic action movies in general” ends a cute scene between the pair. It’s just it travels a well-worn road to it’s predictable denouement, Christina Applegate as Barrymore’s sister seems to be acting in another picture altogether, and some scenes (an early family dinner at Barrymore’s when the girls leave the room in particular) are thoroughly misjudged.
It’d be great to see these two leads work together again, Drew Barrymore in particular is better than I’ve seen her for a long time, but their performances are wasted on such dramatically slight and tonally uneven material.
Going The Distance - 2010 - 102 mins - Dir : Nanette Burstein