Romantic comedies usually stick to formula. That's why people like them; they know where they're going. Boy meets girl; boy and girl fall in love, only they don't know it yet; after much conflict and travail, boy and girl realize what the audience has known all along, and we have a happy ending. Give credit to 2010's "Going the Distance" for taking a new approach to an old format. But being different doesn't necessarily mean being better.
Director Nanette Burstein, whose previous work was mainly in the documentary field ("American Teen," "The Kid Stays in the Picture"), gives us a romantic comedy where the characters falling in love is unambiguous. The two main characters know they like each almost immediately. But their jobs keep them apart. She's on the West coast; he's on the East coast. So the bulk of the story concerns not their love but their attempts to reconcile the problem of distance.
Well, that's their problem. The problem for the audience is that this romantic comedy is neither very romantic nor very funny. Worse, despite its endeavors to show us the difficulties of modern dating, it doesn't come across as particularly believable.
Drew Barrymore and Justin Long star as the lovers, Erin and Garrett, she a Stanford grad student working a summer internship at a big New York City newspaper, and he a small-time record company executive. They are an attractive and personable pair of actors, but the script places them in a hopelessly contrived situation, surrounded by a dorky, wholly unbelievable supporting cast. What's more, the main characters are vacuous (Barrymore as the sweet little reporter devoid of personality) and stereotyped (Long again stuck as the casual, laid-back, supercool Mac guy).
No sooner do they fall in love (after the usual montage of the pair holding hands and frolicking in the park and on the beach) than she has to return to school, and they're suddenly a continent apart. Now they're faced with a circumstance many lovers have encountered when each has a commitment to a different and faraway place. They can try to maintain a long-distance relationship (note the movie's title); one or the other can drop his or her commitment and move in with, or closer to, the other; or they can break up. And, thus, the movie's central dilemma. What to do, what to do?
Here are the difficulties with the movie. The first is the language, which sports a constant stream of profanities and sexual references from every character in it, young, old, male, and female. Understand, I could accept this kind of Hollywood foul talk from teens or college-aged students who are still experimenting with their newfound freedoms of expression. But the characters in this movie are in their early thirties and older; I mean, if a thirty-two-year-old person can't utter a sentence without one or more f-words in it, I'd worry about the person's mental stability. When the two main characters first meet, they're both cussing up a storm in their normal conversations with one another. Would you talk that way to someone you'd never met but wanted to impress? OK, maybe their foul mouths are part of what attract them to each other, but the film also portrays them as intelligent, supposedly mature, college-educated adults. I hope this really isn't a reflection of our times, or we're all doomed.
The second problem concerns the secondary characters. Erin's older, married sister (Christina Applegate) is uptight and controlling, although she has just as foul a mouth as her sister; and the sister's husband looks and acts like Homer Simpson. Garrett's two best friends, Dan (Charlie Day) and Box (Jason Sudeikis), are just short of imbecilic; with no mention of livelihoods, these two thirty-somethings seem to spend most of their lives hanging out in bars, drinking beer, and acting like children. Worse, Dan is Garrett's roommate and does things like listen through the walls to Garrett's lovemaking, adding verbal encouragement whenever possible, or sit on the can with the door open to the living room, even when there's company present. Not funny or credible. (Not that there aren't idiots in the world, but it's incredible that Garrett would willingly put up with them.)
However, probably the movie's greatest claim to fame is its attempts at relevancy, its efforts to relate the couple's romantic adventure to the world of today. Thus, we get scenes involving the unstable job market, computer video cams, texting (sexting), phone sex, and the like. Nothing helps. It's all too predictable and obvious, the characters' behavior often not even rationale, let alone plausible. (Would you make love on your sister's dining-room table with your sister's family in the house?)
"Going the Distance" never makes it past first base.
The New Line video engineers use a single-layer BD25 and a VC-1 codec to reproduce the film in its native aspect ratio, 2.40:1. The results provide adequate clarity most of the time, with touches of softness throughout. Some of the picture is crystal clear, yet much of it displays a minor blur, so there's no real consistency in the video. Let's just say it's not exactly the kind of definition Blu-ray high def is capable of providing. I suspect either the original print or the digital intermediate may be the cause of the softness; I don't know. On the positive side, the colors are fairly deep and rich, if a tad too dark and intense on occasion; black levels are solid; and a small degree of grain provides the image with an appropriately film-like quality.
The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 offers a good, clean midrange, and the surrounds light up during scenes with crowds or cars. But this is a romantic comedy, after all, not an action flick, so don't expect much more than dialogue most of the time.
The extras begin with seven deleted or extended scenes, totaling almost thirteen minutes. After that is a series of featurettes exclusive to the Blu-ray disc. They include an audio commentary by director Nanette Bursting, who tells us what it was like to direct her first romantic comedy; "How to Have a Perfect Date," eight minutes with cast members providing their advice on the subject; "A Guide to Long-Distance Dating," eight more minutes of comments from the cast; and "The Cast of Going the Distance: Off the Cuff," four minutes on the director encouraging the cast to ad lib. Then, there is a music video, "If You Run," by The Boxer Rebellion and a two-minute behind-the-scenes promo on the "Going the Distance" soundtrack.
Because this is a new Combo Pack, it contains not only the Blu-ray edition of the film but a standard-definition DVD, too; plus a digital copy for iTunes or Windows Media (the offer expiring November 28, 2011).
The extras wrap up with ten scene selections; English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish spoken languages; French, Portuguese, and Spanish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired. Additionally, New Line provide a slipcover for the Blu-ray case.
"Going the Distance" attempts above all to be timely and topical, with characters unsure of their future. Fair enough. But how realistic is it, even in the tough economic times of 2010, when the female lead has a postgraduate degree from Stanford but seriously worries that she'll be waiting on tables the rest of her life, and the male lead clings to a job he hates and which, by the look of his apartment, doesn't pay much, when clearly he could do better? I dunno. Nothing about the film, from its foul language to its clunky supporting characters, rang true to me. Give it kudos for trying to be different, but that's about all.