In character-driven movies, there are always moments at which conversations naturally come to a stop. This is due not only to the screenwriter’s dialogue, but also the director’s sense of pacing and the timing of the actors. Well-trained audiences can pick up on this; they can instinctively feel when a scene, specifically when a passage of dialogue, should end. For the characters to continue speaking after that natural moment has passed will do little more than turn a scene into an awkward moment. Of all recently released movies, Going the Distance is the only one I can think of that has more awkward moments than pleasant ones. There are so many instances in which characters keep on talking, even though they have already passed that natural ending point in the conversation. I must have said, “Please shut up,” more times watching this film than I have in the past year.
Most of the run-on dialogue is incredibly vulgar, which would have been fine had it worked in service of the story. Watching Going the Distance, one doesn’t get the sense that it could only be told as a foul-mouthed, sexually charged joke fest; the whole thing felt like an exercise in how to make a romantic comedy R-rated. Do we really need a scene in which three guys graphically discuss masturbation in public, and then one of the guys continues the discussion with an old lady he’s helping cross the street? How about a scene of the same guy asking for a beer as he sits on the toilet, doing his business? With the bathroom door open? This adds nothing to the film. It’s vulgarity for vulgarity’s sake. Reliable romantic comedies tend towards a PG-13 rating, and I saw no reason why this film had to be any different.
The setup is as follows. Garrett (Justin Long) lives in New York City and is a talent scout for a small record label. Erin (Drew Barrymore) is a journalism student from San Francisco, and she’s spending the summer in New York as an intern for a struggling newspaper. The two meet in a bar, and they immediately hit it off. Erin returns to San Francisco six weeks later, but not before she and Garrett decide to try a long-distance relationship, which will include texting, phone calls, and the occasional visit. Naturally, it proves more difficult than they imagined it would be. As they try to manage the ups and downs of a cross-country affair, Erin gets by as a waitress and lives with her sister, Corrine (Christina Applegate), and her husband, Phil (Jim Gaffigan). She also hopes against hope that there will be a reporting position for her in New York come the new year. This is doubtful, given current economic conditions and the dying status of print.
One of the underlying issues of this film is that Drew Barrymore and Justin Long have absolutely no chemistry. Their performances are decent enough, considering, but never once did I believe them as a loving couple. That being said, I honestly don’t know if recasting one or both of them would have made a difference; the material is so flat, coarse, and predictable that it’s unlikely any actor or actors could have saved it, regardless of chemistry.
Which brings me back to those insufferable awkward moments. Many are exacerbated by Garrett’s best friends, Box (Jason Sudeikis) and Dan (Charlie Day), the latter doubling as Garrett’s obnoxious roommate. Watching the three of them together, one idly wonders how they could stand being in the same room together, let alone be friends; Box and Dan are crude, annoying caricatures that no one in their right mind would bother getting to know. They have this maddening tendency to veer off into topics of conversation that primarily exist in low-grade teen comedies. It isn’t until their final scene that I could actually see Dan, and only Dan, as something more than comedy relief; in that scene, he says something to Garrett, something both true and refreshing. Why couldn’t he have been like that for the rest of the film?
Some of the awkward moments are reserved for Corrine, written as a typecast of the caring sister, the exhausted mother, and the sexually frustrated wife all rolled into one. There’s a scene late in the film in her backyard, when she has a few words with Garrett as she barbecues hamburger patties; what begins as a serious and touching declaration ends as a sophomoric verbal gag, effectively ruining the moment. This is what I mean by the natural conclusion of movie conversations. If a character has said everything that needed to be said, and if it has been said well, why prolong the moment with a dirty joke that’s both unnecessary and unfunny? I suspect that somewhere within Going the Distance is a pleasant, more refined romantic comedy, a film that doesn’t need long-winded passages of dialogue that aim for the lowest common denominator.