Review: 'Going the Distance''

(Two stars)

Extra! Extra! Hip People with Cool Jobs Have Relationship Problems! Or so we "learn" in "Going the Distance," the debut fiction feature from documentarian Nanette Burstein ("American Teen").

Sarcasm aside, the raison d'etre of "Going the Distance" is exploring long-distance relationships. What a shame, then, that it has nothing much to say on the subject that isn't completely obvious.

Still, the ever-charming Drew Barrymore puts a winning face on this romantic comedy as Erin, a 31-year-old intern nearing the end of her run at the New York Sentinel. The high-scorer on a watering hole's "Centipede" arcade game, Erin meets cute fellow "Centipede" buff Garrett (Justin Long) and the two drink some beers, share a bong and hook up.

Since Erin is scheduled to return to the Left Coast to finish her grad-school studies at Stanford, the pair agree to keep it light. But when the time comes to split, neither one wants to give up what they have going, romantically speaking. Problem: They don't want to give up what they have going professionally, either. Erin's not going to abandon her studies, and Garrett's unwilling to give up New York City and his job at a record label (after all, Erin hopes to make things permanent at the Sentinel). Well, the course of true love never did run smooth.

But the devil's in the details. First-time screenwriter Geoff LaTulippe busies himself with the romantic comedy genre's requisite trumped-up plot complications, head-scratching character choices designed to drive a wedge between the lovers for plot purposes. It's as hard to believe one lover's inexplicably jerky selfishness as it is to believe the other's inexplicable hiding of an important career development. What two people serious enough about each other to go for a long-distance relationship behave this way?

This is why romantic comedies have to be so good at sleight-of-hand and misdirection. Burstein's distractions include Garrett's comically insensitive buddies -- played by Jason Sudeikis ("SNL") and the hilarious Charlie Day ("It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia") -- Christina Applegate and comedian Jim Gaffigan as Erin's sister and brother-in-law, and cameos from Ron Livingston, Rob Riggle and Kristen Schaal.

Appreciative of the idea of bonding over shared pop-culture references, the target audience of thirtysomethings will probably be more forgiving of the film's weaknesses. And Barrymore is so darn likeable, turning a drunk scene that someone with her tabloid past might have thought twice about into one of the movie's comic highlights.

"Going the Distance" isn't terribly unpleasant, but it is awfully conventional. Unlike its characters, the movie never takes flight.

Rated R for sexual content including dialogue, language, drug use and brief nudity. 1 hour, 43 minutes.

— Peter Canavese

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