The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Monday, July 29, 2013

Going the Distance

Something has changed in the romantic comedy vein. In the 1990s, stars like Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock starred in cute, funny and worthwhile rom-coms that guys can actually tolerate. Something changed there in the early 2000s where the genre became one shrill, obnoxious movie after another (Guys need not apply). Oddly enough, director Judd Apatow is responsible for another change in the genre. Adult romantic comedies that men and women alike can enjoy, a trend he started with 40-Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up. No Apatow connection, another in the same vein is the enjoyable 2010's Going the Distance.

Hours off a breakup with his girlfriend, New Yorker Garrett (Justin Long) is in a bar with two of his friends when he meets Erin (Drew Barrymore). They hit it off immediately, ending up back at Garrett's apartment. But the next morning rather than part after a one-night stand, they exchange numbers and agree to go out again. The young New Yorkers start dating and fall hard for each other, but there's a catch. Erin is heading back to California soon to continue her graduate work at Stanford. Both Erin and Garrett know the pitfalls of a long distance relationship, but they decide they don't want to break up, giving the long distance thing a try. It starts off smoothly enough, but after weeks and months apart, the struggles start to pop up. They still feel strongly for each other, but is it enough to get them through an extended rough patch, especially when Erin is offered a job in San Francisco?

From director Nanette Burstein and screenplay writer Geoff LaTulippe, 'Distance' struggled mightily in theaters during its theatrical run in 2010. It doesn't rewrite the romantic comedy genre -- I imagine that would be tough to do -- but again, I liked it. I didn't rush out to see it or rent it in 2010, but watched it recently and enjoyed it from beginning to end (call it The Girlfriend Effect, seriously though, I did like it). One of the best things going for it is that the story is based in some sort of reality, not movie reality. 'Distance' tries to show some sort of dating reality, of being single, of being married. It is funny but I never got the sense it was trying too hard. These aren't movie boyfriend and girlfriends with all sort of outlandish, out of this world problems. It's just a young couple fresh into a relationship trying to work things out. Pretty crazy, huh? 

Sink or swim moment here for a romantic comedy. Do you like the stars? Are they so annoying you're actively rooting against them? Do you want them to meet a gruesome end? Thankfully, the casting of Barrymore and Long is a winner. Dating at the time the movie was filmed, they have an easygoing, natural chemistry that flows well as the relationship gets deeper and more emotionally connected. Sure, Long's name is Garrett (cool movie name, dude), and he works for a hip record label (are there 6 million record labels out there so all hip movie characters can work at one?), but Long does a good job as a pretty typical single guy on the dating scene. I thought maybe Barrymore was a tad old to play the character but then realized she's 35 and just seems like she's older because she's been acting since the early 1980s. Either way, I liked the duo together.

Really though, the biggest reason I'll recommend this 2010 romantic comedy is the rest of the cast. I liked Barrymore and Long together, but the strength is in the supporting players, especially Charlie Day (of It's Always Sunny) and Jason Sudeikis as Garrett's friends Dan and Box. The duo and the relationship among the friends gives a funnier dimension to the story. Day's Dan has no filter (not by choice, he's just goofy and talkative) and as Garrett's roommate, likes to DJ his hook-ups, listening through the paper thin walls in one of the movie's best running bits. Sudeikis' Box has grown a mustache in hopes of hooking up with a cougar looking to reclaim her younger glory days. While I liked the entire movie, I especially liked scenes with Long, Day and Sudeikis. The script gives them some really funny moments to work with, and they don't disappoint.

Sit back down though, we've also got Christina Applegate as Erin's worrying older sister, Corinne, with comedian Jim Gaffigan especially memorable as her husband. Ron Livingston has a thankless, quick part as Garrett's boss at the record label while Oliver Jackson-Cohen is Erin's dreamy co-worker, a smooth English bartender. Rob Riggle has a good one-scene appearance as a married man who's less than pleased with Garrett's big-time efforts to impress Erin while Leighton Meester plays Garrett's girlfriend in the opening scene.

Romantic comedies can get too goofy, too stupid and as was the case with the recent This Is 40, too self-indulgent. This was an enjoyable, very funny and at times decently smart romantic comedy that benefits from a strong cast. Now, if we could get more romantic comedies like this, then we would be onto something.

Going the Distance (2010): ***/****

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