Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Going the Distance

We’re getting to a point where comedies are trying to be nothing more than funny at any expense. Some of them have the gall enough to just pull it off, but remember a time when comedies, especially romantic ones, were about characters who just so happened to be funny? Essentially comedies are about human behaviour, juxtapositions of opposing things, dramatic irony and so fourth. That we liked the characters enough to laugh along with them was all just icing on the cake. Going the Distance asks us to laugh at its characters but plays instead like a puff of smoke: it exists in front of our eyes and then quickly dematerializes until it has ceased to exist. It’s real because we can see it, taste it, smell it, but it leaves you wondering where the fire is. This is basically the romantic comedy of the next generation. It is rated-R so we all know just how edgy it is; has characters talk in conversations that sound more like over anxious screenwriters than real buddies and drops pop culture references just to show how hip to the scene it is. Some of them are broad (The Beastie Boys) and some of them are just obscure enough to please the real diggers (The Accused). There was once upon a time, before Scream, when movie characters didn’t talk like they knew things that happened in the outside world. Now it seems as though movies feel that if they aren’t referencing the times they aren’t part of them. The tragedy of the whole matter is that we don’t go to Drew Barrymore romantic comedies, by and large, to hear the starlet drop f-bombs and take rips off the bong. We go to see her because she is sweet and cute and because of her charm. You want her to end up with Mr. Right and we pray, above all, that she catches him before screwing it up. That premise worked for Barrymore in her best comedy, Fever Pitch, in which she and Jimmy Fallon talked like real people, acted like real people, fell in love naturally and expressed legitimate concerns about each other before living happily ever after. The problem with Going the Distance is that it’s too hip to its own game to find a compelling narrative arch to put Barrymore in. God forbid a romantic comedy in 2010 ever drop the safety net for long enough to show it has a heart. Garrett (Justin Long, charming his way, one role at a time, into becoming the next John Cusack) has just broken up with his girlfriend because he’s apparently the only guy in New York who doesn’t know that when a woman says not to get her a present for her anniversary, what she really means is get me an even better one instead. He meets Erin (Barrymore) at a bar after interrupting her game of Centipede which she holds the high score for. He buys her a beer to apologize and they end up at his place. Unbeknownst to Garrett, Erin is just doing a summer internship in NY and will be shipping off back home to San Francisco in a few weeks. Having fallen hard for each other they agree to try to make it work long distance while one of them searches for a job within a respectable distance from the other. The simple reality of the long distance relationship is that it oozes predictability. You can see Going the Distance coming from a mile away. If the essence of the film is that long distance is hard, well, the response is: yeah, tell me something I don’t know. The couple yearn to see each other; they have the requisite holiday visit where they do the dirty on her sister’s kitchen table...where her brother-in-law has stopped for a midnight snack; they are jealous of opposite sex co-workers; and then buckle under the pressure of it just not working. He wants her in New York, she doesn’t understand why it needs to be her to make the move, and the drama spins on. Garrett has two best friends who are played by Saturday Night Lives’ Jason Sudeikis and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Charlie Day. Both of them are unfortunately designated the role of too-clever-for-their-own-good comedic sidekick role, where Sudeikis is defined by a moustache that is supposed to help him pick up lonely older woman, however Day has the common sense to at least play the material straight and with an endearing quality. Not an easy feat for someone with nothing to work with. And then the question remains of whether or not they will break up and find a way to make it work. What do you think? The problem is, you don’t care. There is no stake in this relationship because it all boils down to something everyone already knows: long distance sucks and the film isn’t clever or sweet enough to make us really care about the outcome of this relationship. This is a film that ends up not going the distance at all: it smokes, it swears, it winks in recognition of how with it it is and then it ends. There’s a romance in it, but romantic it is not.

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