We hardly ever see any romantic comedies that are very good (let alone great), which is why it's easy to be reasonably satisfied with something like GOING THE DISTANCE. The movie deals with the subject of long-distance relationships by showcasing the negative effects of impersonal communication through text messages and whatnot on the interactions between people who are in love, yet in spite of being such a timely film, it offers a lot of the conventions that we've seen for years in romcoms. That can be a problem if it's done to the point of annoyance, but thanks to the charms of Drew Barrymore and Justin Long, annoyance is kept at a minimum. Neither of them is a great actor, but their on-screen chemistry alone is enough to recommend the film. It's quite a tough task for a pair of actors to maintain chemistry even when they're separate from each other in a lot of scenes, but this duo accomplishes it admirably.
Garrett (Justin Long) lives in New York and works for a record label. We get a glimpse at his most recent break-up with a girl, and from that glimpse, we can tell that he's the kind of guy who makes girls give up a lot to be with him, whereas he doesn't give up much himself. He meets Erin (Drew Barrymore) at a bar, and they start dating, but the problem is that Erin is only in New York for a summer internship, and she's leaving for California as soon as it's over. Garrett's favorite movie is TOP GUN, and Erin's favorite is THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION. Conventional choices, to be sure, but I can't help but always be overjoyed when characters in movies tell us what their favorite films are. A helpful montage displays the way in which the relationship blossoms, and soon it seems obvious that they're in love with one another. She leaves for California, but they decide to stay together and try the long-distance approach. This is where the frustration over being away from each other and over not being able to find jobs in the same city starts affecting each of them deeply.
If Barrymore and Long are more charming than most generic romcom couples, the same (unfortunately) can't be said of the supporting cast. I'd like someone to explain to me why it is that, in this type of film, the lead male character's friends are always super annoying stereotypical "dudes" who are in the film to offer gross/crude humor. There's a particularly hard-to-believe scene in GOING THE DISTANCE in which a friend literally takes Garrett's cell phone from him and shatters it with a golf club. Garrett's response? A mild "dude, I can't believe you did that!" In the real world, if a supposed friend of yours destroys your cell phone while you're talking to a significant other, the LEAST that'll happen is that you won't speak to the friend for several weeks. We wish that would happen in GOING THE DISTANCE, because it would've been nice if Garrett's two friends went off-screen for a while, but alas, they don't. They keep showing up, and one of them even takes a crap with the bathroom door open... awesome. Similar comments can be made of the female lead character's friends in romcoms... they tend to be the overly neurotic, nagging girl, and this is taken to an even higher extreme when the character is also the sister, as is the case in this particular movie. I guess it's not difficult to understand why these characters are always drawn that way: it's all about gender stereotypes. But that doesn't mean it can't bother me, and it certainly can't keep me from pointing it out as the significant problem in an otherwise decent romantic comedy.
The film features a solid amount of humorous moments. There's an unexpected, slightly scandalous moment in which the word "tip" and its multiple meanings is exploited for comedic purposes. There's also an incredibly welcome jab at Michael Bay that deserves an applause; this is one of those instances in which the subjects of masturbation and steroids are NOT used to make simple-minded crass jokes, and we should be very thankful for that. Speaking of that, an item of note is the fact that GOING THE DISTANCE is rated R instead of PG-13. If it had cut out some of the sex-related humor and the "fucks", it could've easily been PG-13, which is what most romantic comedies are, since they want to attract teenage girls. I'm glad that GOING THE DISTANCE chose to be rated R because, when it comes down to it, the subject matter is adult. By "the subject matter," I don't mean the sexual material, but rather, the seriousness of the struggle that Erin and Garrett go through in trying to make their long-distance relationship work. It's a film for people who know about the toils and troubles of being involved in anything beyond a high school fling.
But the factor that truly saves GOING THE DISTANCE and make it worth a recommendation is the last act. It often happens that an ending will ruin a film for me and force me to give it a negative rating despite having liked everything that came prior to the ending. Well, the opposite can happen as well, and it kind of does in this case. Of course the film has a happy ending... but it's a happy ending that is much more based on reality. It's a happy ending that comes after making some painful decisions and compromises. I expected to see an over-the-top happy ending in which one person would decide not to get on a plane at the last minute, or the other person would be sprinting down the hallways of an airport, but that isn't the case at all. It's a much more subtle ending, more true to what probably happens in real-life with long-distance relationships that are finally able to WORK, after all the pain and suffering and effort that was put into them. GOING THE DISTANCE is unafraid to show that a relationship is something that forces you to give up a lot of yourself in order to make something wonderful and worthwhile work out, and for that, it's worth seeing.