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Movie review: 'Going the Distance'

It may be too raunchy for some, but the new Drew Barrymore romantic comedy is a true artifact of this recessionary era.

September 03, 2010|By Michael Phillips, Tribune Newspapers critic

Warning: This is not a reliable review of "Going the Distance." When it comes to contemporary American romantic comedy, my brain, heart and standards have been seriously compromised by "The Ugly Truth," "Did You Hear About the Morgans?", "The Bounty Hunter" and "The Back-up Plan" and many others. Too many others.

The calculated sexual raunch (mostly verbal) in "Going the Distance" impedes on its hard-edged, soft-center charm, and it may be enough to throw various audience segments straight out of the thing. But screenwriter Geoff LaTulippe's story of a recession-era long-distance relationship and its attendant hurdles takes its characters seriously. Moreover, it takes place in something like the real world and makes the most of its leading actors, one of whom I never really liked much until this movie.

I speak of Justin Long, the rich man's Bob Denver. Here he plays a fledgling, frustrated record-label A&R rep tasked with overseeing a Jonas Brothers-style haircut band. Over a video round of Centipedes one night at a Manhattan bar, this boy-man with the "Top Gun" posters on his wall meets a newspaper intern for the fictional New York Sentinel. She is played by Drew Barrymore. There's no other way to say it: She's a great broad. Has been for years. Her character is a hard-drinking, trash-talking survivor of various bruising relationships and, at 31, she's too old to be a fully self-respecting intern. Good detail, that. Erin is scheduled to return to her native San Francisco in six weeks. A late-summer fling turns into a more vaguely defined commuter relationship, kept alive by adrenaline, game but awkward phone sex (clever scene) and frequent flier miles.

As "Going the Distance" ping-pongs between the two coasts, Erin and Garrett try to figure out if what they have is enough. Their career paths stink, yet alternatives are hard to locate. ("Why don't you try blogging?" Erin's newspaper editor suggests, distractedly.) The script zings everything from "The Accused" to Michael Bay movies. The secondary characters aren't quite what they should be, though Christina Applegate and Jim Gaffigan are deftly funny as Erin's tightly wrapped sister and sad-sack brother-in-law, respectively. When the scenes are clicking, director Nanette Burstein (who made the documentaries "On the Ropes" and "American Teen") keeps the banter fast and loose. The atmosphere is deliberately low on polish; the way cinematographer Eric Steelberg lights the interiors, the romance has to fight to assert itself.

Will Erin and Garrett appeal to everybody? No. They smoke pot and drink, sometimes obliteratingly, and the leads' potential romantic rivals are set up in a pedestrian way. But I liked the movie mainly for Barrymore. The way she handles the crucial, early "I love you" moment (he's saying it to her, and the camera shows us what she's thinking), you think: This is one canny actress. mjphillips@tribune.com

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