Doodad Kind of Town

The Return of real romance (?)
September 16, 2010, 1:59 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Anyone who reads this blog with regularity (all two or three of you!) knows how much I love a good romantic comedy… and how infuriated I become in the face of the far-too-many rom coms that are routinely stamped out of Hollywood’s flimsy, uninspired templates.

Bossy, briefcase-toting bitches in Manolos and power suits who need an earnest, blue-collar hunk to show them the meaning of love.  Foul-mouthed, pot-bellied man-children who, once they succumb to love (inexplicably proffered by fabulous, gorgeous women) put down their bongs, shut off the internet porn and become responsible wage-earning adult men. Struggling twenty-somethings who incongruously live in palatial apartments and wear designer clothes.  Katherine Heigl trying like hell to convince us she’s a spunky, lovable comedienne.  They’re all fantasies, but cynically empty ones, not so much reflective of our deepest longings for intimacy and connection as of our shallower desires for mind-numbing escapes and cool stuff.

And so it is with cautious hope that I report: “Going the Distance” may well be the first glimmer of the light at the end of the contemporary rom-com’s murky tunnel.  It’s not perfect by any means; there are too many sidesteps into entirely unnecessary raunchy humor and it runs out of steam in its second act.  But its leads, Drew Barrymore and Justin Long (who are sometimes a couple offscreen as well) as so sweet together and they have the kind of lovely, unaffected chemistry that’s been woefully absent among screen couples in recent years.  What’s more, “Going the Distance” is resolutely not – as so many other recent rom coms resolutely are – a shameless showcase of product placement and real estate porn.  The film is true to the economic realities its characters face. Realities that are, in fact, at the heart of the story.

Barrymore and Long play a couple whose passionate desire to be together is thwarted by their dwindling career hopes.  She’s an aspiring newspaper reporter, he’s a struggling publicist for a fast-dying record company.  They meet over beers and games of Centipede in a down-at-the-heels bar, mere weeks before her internship at a New York newspaper ends, forcing her to return to San Francisco (where she lives with her sister’s family and waits tables) while he stays behind in a messy bachelor pad shared with two roommates.  After a few weeks of whirlwind romance, they decide to make a go of a long distance relationship.

While they start with high hopes, soon the messy realities of high-priced plane tickets, time zone differences and awkward phone sex threaten to derail the romance.  Both try very hard to find a job in the other’s city – neither succeeds.   There’s only so much joy and connection to be had through phone calls and video chats, and by the two-thirds point, you’ll be wondering exactly what foundation these two are building their everlasting love on.  I won’t give away the ending, except to say that it feels contrived and, at the same time, the only way the story could have been resolved.

I wish that Long’s roommates (played by Jason Sudekis and Charlie Day) had been a little more real and little less like transplants from a lower-tier Judd Apatow production. And I wish that Christina Applegate, as Barrymore’s protective, tartly funny big sister, might have been given a bit more to do.  But I appreciated director Nanette Burstein’s light and indulgent touch with her actors.  It’s a credit to her, as well as to the extremely likable leads, that a montage of frolicking-on-the-beach scenes – followed by a park bench conversation about the sweetness of watching old couples walking together – feels true and tender rather than hackneyed and trite.

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