With Going the Distance, we once again enter the realm of the not-terrible, which is better than expected.
I'll admit right from the jump here: I'm not a Drew Barrymore fan. I find most of her performances mannered; I always feel as though I can see her acting. And, most of the time, she's acting cute.
But in Going the Distance, Barrymore feels much less actorish, playing a young woman caught in a romantic dilemma: Does she choose the guy or her career? She's got a natural ease I haven't seen since, oh, I don't know, E.T.
And that may have something to do with her costar. Actually, it probably has everything to do with the fact that she's playing opposite her real-life squeeze, Justin Long. And Long is a talented comedian who, apparently, can make even Drew Barrymore look good.
As a result, Going the Distance is a surprisingly funny movie. It's not great - not by a long shot. But it made me laugh on a much more regular basis than I expected. And that's not something I can discount easily.
Directed by documentarian Nanette Burstein, from a script by Geoff LaTulippe, Going the Distance casts Barrymore and Long as Erin and Garrett, who meet cute in a Brooklyn bar one night, when he spoils her game of Centipede. He is fresh from a break-up with a girlfriend, who he believed when she said she didn't want him to get her a birthday gift. "It's not about the gift," she weeps, but it obviously is.
Erin is, at 31, an intern at a New York newspaper for the summer, before going back to grad school. Her dream is to be a newspaper reporter (oops, good luck with that one). When she and Garrett connect, she makes it clear that she's only got six weeks left in New York, before she goes back to Stanford.
But they connect -- so well that, when it's time for her to leave, the two of them vow to try to keep the flame alive via phone calls, video chats, texting and the like, with occasional visits thrown in. But long-distance relationships have limited life expectancies, once the initial glow wears off.
And that's what the movie is about: the strain of distance and the way the best parts of a relationship begin to mean less when the pressures of the rest of life bear down. But that, in and of itself, isn't particularly entertaining.
Thankfully, LaTulippe has written some very funny friends for each of the principal characters. Long is part of a trio of pals that includes Jason Sudeikis of Saturday Night Live and Charlie Day from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Barrymore gets Christina Applegate as her germaphobe sister and Jim Gaffigan as Applegate's long-suffering husband.
And that's really the best part of Going the Distance: watching Long and Barrymore react to their wonderfully weird assortment of friends. Day is particularly funny, though his character isn't that far removed from the one he plays on It's Always Sunny. And Applegate remains an underutilized and effective comedienne of great economy and range.
Long also has a way with a punchline, with great facial, physical and verbal skill. He brings out the best in Barrymore, who has a looseness I haven't previously noticed.
The script itself is hit-and-miss, relying too heavily on the word "f**k" as a modifier without taking the time to make it either colorful, distinctive or funny.
I wouldn't classify Going the Distance as a chick flick because the male side is pretty equally represented. But it is a date movie. And, as I said, it's a surprisingly painless and enjoyable one.