Going the Distance combines the bromantic comedy and the romantic comedy in a snappy, unsappy package that is a refreshing change for the genre. Romantic comedies typically go one of two ways, divided (supposedly) along gender lines. The "chick flicks" are sweet and slapsticky, with a cute, bickering couple who don't know how right they are for each other. The bromances are rude and crude, but deep down kinda sorta sincere, and, I suppose, meant to get the guys into the theatres without too much fuss. Team Apatow specializes in the latter, and Adam Sandler dabbles in them. Going the Distance manages to successfully combine the bromance and romance, with a cute couple (Justin Long and Drew Barrymore) who are kept apart not by some manufactured, only-in-the-movies plot development, but rather by something uncomfortably familiar and real: their jobs.
Garrett (Long) works for a record company. He loves music, but hates his job (because he loves *good* music). (There's a lot of good music on the movie soundtrack, by the by.) Erin (Barrymore) is a summer intern and aspiring newspaper reporter at a New York City newspaper. She's getting a late start in her career, and has apparently hit her stride just as newspapers are massively downsizing. When she and Garrett meet, she is just weeks away from going back to San Francisco to finish grad school, and he is fresh off his latest breakup (apparently he has commitement issues). They meet drunk and surly, but are brought together by their mutual love of vintage video arcade games and cheesy 1980s movies (and dope). Next thing you know, he's running through the airport to tell her... well, just to tell her he hopes he can see her again sometime. Post-9/11 airport security has really taken all the rainbows and unicorns out of airports. Erin and Garrett have their heart to heart chat at the check-in line, the uninspiring threshold that is the scene of the modern day airport farewell.
Going the Distance is enough of a genre-bender to get the airport scene out of the way early in the movie, and to make it but a teaser for the real complications that follow from this hopeful, against the odds romance.
And the odds are bad. Erin wants to live in New York, wants to be with Garrett, but economic forces beyond her control (the recession, the job market, the slow dying of old media) keep her in California, where she lives with her clean-freak sister (the hilarious Christina Applegate). Garrett is tethered to New York by his job, but also by his close relationships with Box (Jason Sudelkis) and Dan (Charlie Day), his weird, potty-mouthed buddies (for her part, Erin can swear like a sailor -- and drink like one -- too).
The movie, directed by Nanette Burstein and scripted by Geoff LaTulippe, takes the classic romantic comedy conundrum -- Will they or won't they? Can they or can't they? -- and makes it meaningful and realistic. A continent is a big distance to travel, but the more difficult terrain Garrett and Erin have to navigate is vastly more significant: it's the land where you follow your dreams (in an individualistic, uncompromising way), and make a living, and find your true love, and live happily ever after. Having your cake and eating it too (and never getting fat from eating all that cake) is the American dream, and it's just the sort of dream that a reporter like Erin might write a nice feature about. Of course, it'll be about how that dream is dead, or dying, or something like that. Going the Distance is smart enough to take that dream seriously, but also to recognize it for the quixotic fantasy it is, and to recognize, as well, the way movies push that delicously sweet, cakey ideal. Going the Distance ices the cake with a big dollop of reality, but it's also charming and funny, and the characters are appealing enough that, gosh darn it, you really hope those two crazy kids can find that happy ending, even if it means racking up the frequent flier miles.