Going the Distance is a movie that's wrong in all the big ways and right in all the small ones. Put simply, it's a fucking mess--tonally inconsistent, maddeningly illogical, only fitfully funny. But it can't be dismissed as easily as all that. There's a genuinely interesting picture lurking around its edges, one which occasionally bursts onto the screen and runs around for a while before the requirements of the formula at the movie's center shoves it back under the bed. That movie is worth seeing.
The topic at hand is the long-distance relationship, a situation universal and recognizable enough that it's a little shocking it's not been mined for romantic comedy before. Erin (Drew Barrymore) and Garrett (Justin Long) Meet Cute in New York, where he works at an indie record label and she's interning at a newspaper that is clearly the Times, even though it's called the Sentinel. (Later, she's offered a job in San Francisco, where the paper is correctly identified as the Chronicle. Little consistency here?) She's going back to California in six weeks, he's just out of a relationship, so they agree to keep it light--but of course they don't, because then it'd be a 23 minute movie. So they take a crack at the ol' LDR, over the warnings of his friends (Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis) and her sister (Christina Applegate), and complications ensue.
The picture gets off to a mighty rocky start; Garrett's break-up (with an underused Leighton Meester) and the subsequent hashing-out-of-issues with his bros (they actually use the phrase "afraid of commitment") are scenes that have been done, done, done to death, the dialogue a mishmash of relationship platitudes and rom-com Mad Libs. (There are flashes of terrible writing throughout: late in the film, when six months have passed, we're told that Barrymore is doing well by having a colleague stiffly announce, "Congratulations on your front page story!") But things certainly perk up when Barrymore slides in--she's never been more welcome or more likable. Good-humored and game, wrapping her gin-soaked voice around some of the filthiest dialogue of her career, she gives the story a credibility boost; simply spoken, you get why he'd fall for her, because who wouldn't? She also gives her co-star a lift (they are, or were, reportedly off-screen lovers as well), which is a relief, since he's a bit of an empty husk without her.
But most of their two-scenes end up coasting on the duo's considerable charm; there are laughs, here and there, but they're mostly locked into the A-B-C progression of the central story. The interesting stuff is happening elsewhere--sometimes, literally through the walls, where Day (from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia), as Garrett's buddy and roommate Dan, kibitzes on his dates and, in Barrymore's words, "DJs your hook-up" (his well-timed playing of "Take My Breath Away" during their first kiss becomes the best movie-music joke this side of Blazing Saddles). With his offhand line readings and loopy comic timing, Day basically steals the movie--and does so with barely any effort. I can't imagine anyone, Day included, would argue that he's creating a new character here; this is basically Charlie from Sunny popping into a studio romantic comedy, and subverting it with his casual weirdness.
But that subversion is all over the movie; the "plot" is almost like a chore that everyone has to keep getting around to, like kids eating their vegetables. But I would have rather veered off into an entire movie about Kristen Schaal's skittish, trivia-hosting bartender, or Mike Birbiglia's shambling waiter, who doesn't quite undersell that jug of wine enough. Sudeikis gives his character just the right sheen of sleaze, Jim Gaffigan turns a trip to a sketchy rental apartment into a comic bonanza, and there's not one comedy being made right now that wouldn't benefit from Christina Applegate being in it.
Screenwriter Geoff LaTulipe's approach to sexuality is a lean brew; the frankness and honesty with which it approaches such matters is a little refreshing (and occasionally, more than a little erotic), but they also go, too often, for the easy, lazy laugh. This holds especially true in the final scene, which trots out the film's three sketchiest running jokes, all at once, bang-bang-bang. It's a groaner of a sequence, and an awfully weak note on which to end this decidedly mixed bag of a picture.
THE BLU-RAY DISC:
The 1080p, VC-1 transfer has its strengths--namely, the daytime exteriors (like the picturesque beach and Central Park scenes), which are sharp and attractive, with natural saturation and exquisite grain. Most of the interiors are clean and handsome as well. But there are odd anomalies in the 2.35:1 image, every now and again--the nighttime outdoor café date scene early in the film, for example, which has an odd video sheen that's quite ugly, or the second drive to the airport late in the film, which is oddly faded in the manner of a late 80s movie. When the disc looks good, it looks very good, but when it doesn't, it sticks out like a sore thumb.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track gets the job done, with dialogue clean and audible in the center channel and ambient sound distributed nicely (if perhaps a bit too subtly) throughout the soundstage. There are only a couple of showcase sequences--most of them club concert scenes, related to Garrett's job--but they have a nice punch to them, and give the LFE channel an opportunity to shine.
French, Spanish, and Portuguese 5.1 tracks are also included, as are English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles.
Director Nanette Burstein's Audio Commentary is just a touch dry--some of the insights and compliments have a familiar feel ("You know, I really wanted to make New York a character"), as if she's been repeating them at press junkets for weeks. But she's genuinely enthusiastic about the project, and her excitement about making her first fiction feature (she has a documentary background) is palpable.
"How to Have the Perfect Date" (7:51) is one of those terrible featurettes that asks the cast a bunch of dumb dating questions that no one cares about. "A Guide to Long Distance Dating" (7:57) is along the same lines; it's more about the subject of the film than the film itself, and seriously, who's going to Blu-ray special features for relationship advice? On the other hand, "The Cast of Going the Distance: Off The Cuff" (4:19) is an enjoyable montage of improvisations and variations that didn't make the cut.
Next up is a reel of Deleted Scenes (12:48), and most are actually worth a look--particularly an extended dialogue between Sudekis and Day about what would happen to Long's room if he got, er, too depressed. The disc also includes a Music Video (3:25) of "If You Run" by the Boxer Rebellion, all full of clips from the movie, and a Behind the Scenes (2:27) promo for the soundtrack.
The blu-ray also comes with a second disc, featuring a standard-def DVD presentation and a digital copy for viewing on portable devices.
Going the Distance has problems galore, but I can't discard it outright--I can't pretend that Day isn't a scream, that Barrymore doesn't charm, that the bit players don't have real juice. There's nothing smooth or steady about it; it feels, in spots, just Scotch-taped together out of bits and pieces and well-worn tropes. But I've thought back on it since viewing it, and I've smiled. So take that for whatever it's worth.
Jason lives with his wife Rebekah and their daughter Lucy in New York. He holds an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU. He is film editor for Flavorwire and is a contributor to Salon, the Atlantic, and several other publications. His first book, Pulp Fiction: The Complete History of Quentin Tarantino's Masterpiece, was released last fall by Voyageur Press. He blogs at Fourth Row Center and is yet another critic with a Twitter feed.