Justin Long’s character in Going the Distance is a Mac and Drew Barrymore’s is a PC. He lives in New York, she’s a NorCal girl. He takes two steps forward and she takes two steps back. But they go together like Janet Jackson and animated music video cats. And they overcome the travails of their long distance relationship to get together every 15 minutes to make sweet PG-13-rated love in a movie that’s rated R for no reason.
The rating is one of the many confusing things about the movie, which underuses It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia genius Charlie Day in a throwaway role as Long’s dirtbag roommate and gives Christina Applegate far too much screentime as Barrymore’s disapproving nag of a sister. The movie has some wildly funny moments, such as all of Day’s lines, a scene in which Long gets a comeuppance for texting too much at a driving range, and the part in which wannabe newspaper reporter Barrymore is denied a job when her would-be boss tells her he just laid off 100 people.
I was the only one in the theater who laughed at that one, possibly because it wasn’t meant as a joke, but Barrymore’s crack that she thinks the newspaper business is about to rebound drew big chuckles.
The funny stuff is canceled out by too many story-intensive stretches, which dispense with the humor and make the movie feel as long as Braveheart. Director Nanette Burstein expects you to dangle in suspense, wondering whether Long and Barrymore will be able to settle on a place to live together and sort out their trust issues. Meanwhile, Day sits offscreen with nothing to do, waiting for the chance to come back into the film, breathing life into the otherwise dull affair before slipping back to crazyland.
Long and Barrymore lack the chemistry that makes you believe they’ll run away together after filming to start adopting African children. Long, who is better in supporting roles as a put-upon straight man, struggles to stay interesting as a put-upon music promoter who’s forced to recruit boy bands instead of striving to uncover the hipster garage bands he loves.
Barrymore conjures up a mix between her Wedding Singer waitress character and the Never Been Kissed reporter. Her character earns your sympathy for her tireless efforts to strive for low expectations. She goes to Stanford with the goal of becoming a print reporter, hoping to land a job that won’t pay off her student loans for four lifetimes. She stays single, fending off advances from a British coworker to pine for a self-hating, directionless commitmentphobe who lives on the other side of the country.
Much like her sister does, you glare at the character with scrunched eyes, wondering why she can’t do better for herself. Or maybe you just stare through the character, at Barrymore herself, wondering why an actress as talented as her signed onto a mess like this.
Starring Drew Barrymore, Justin Long and Charlie Day. Written by Michael Geoff LaTulippe. Directed by Nanette Burstein. Rated R. 102 minutes.
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