By Steve Persall
Times Film Critic
Nanette Burstein proved herself a fine documentary filmmaker with The Kid Stays in the Picture and American Teen, movies with rich, real people and situations too juicy to be true but were.
Why then is her feature film debut, Going the Distance, filled with such incredibly dumb characters doing things that ring so falsely? If this is Burstein stretching, her creative rubber band just broke.
Going the Distance is a standard-issue romantic comedy believing smutty talk adds something worthwhile to the genre. It is a movie with so many contrived excuses to prolong itself that the most suitable and believable (but false) ending occurs 20 minutes into the film. It is a movie in which doors exist to bonk someone in the nose, drawers are built to bruise shins upon, and background extras noticeably chat phony.
It is a movie that challenged my personal record for clock watching during a screening. Fulfilling the title and making it all the way to the end of Burstein's film was a chore.
This battle of the sexes stars Drew Barrymore as Erin, an intern at a New York newspaper who meets Garrett (Justin Long) in a bar playing Centipede. A few Jagermeister shots and bong hits later, they're in bed. The next morning, she says her internship ends in six weeks, when she'll return home to San Francisco. She does, and the relationship and plot should end there.
But this is movie love, doggone it, and that means trying to continue as a bicoastal couple. Friends and relatives on both sides of the country tell Erin and Garrett it can't work but they persist, briefly changing their minds on occasion before Skyping and making up.
That means expensive airplane tickets, compulsive text messaging and, yes, a scene involving Garrett visiting a spray tanning salon. Everything turns out fine there and . . . who am I kidding? Garrett does something stupid, and hilarity is supposed to ensue. It doesn't.
That's nearly as embarrassing as the couple fumbling through a phone sex session and Barrymore's drunk scene, complete with a torrent of obscenities directed at a bystander. You'll never be America's Sweetheart with a mouth like that, missy.
Barrymore is a savvy film producer (Charlie's Angels) and capable director (Whip It) who should know better than to hitch her star to such material. She was probably attracted by the opportunity to appear with then-boyfriend Long (they split in July but a reconciliation is rumored, possibly to publicize Going the Distance). Their happy-time montages are the most convincing aspect of the movie.
A few fun moments are provided by Christina Applegate as Erin's overly concerned sister and deadpan comic Jim Gaffigan as her husband. The lewd, frat boy shenanigans of Garrett's pals (Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis) are amusing in a Judd Apatow fashion that doesn't belong in this picture. So many funny, lovable people, so few laughs and affection honestly earned.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at tampabay.com/blogs/movies.