By Scott Martin
Going The Distance, USA, 2010
Directed by Nanette Burstein
Some of us have experienced it, some of us have vowed to never go through it (once or again), some of us are doing it right now, but the fact is Nanette Burstein’s film might as well be “based on actual events.” It isn’t a film for everyone, hence its divisive critical reception, but for those of us who can connect, it serves as medicine for a most unique ailment: long-distance relationships. Some of them work, some of them crash and burn, but no matter what happens between the two loved ones, it’s a learning experience like none other. Burstein is a documentary filmmaker by trade, having only a few films, including The Kid Stays in the Picture (2002) and American Teen (2008), to her name. It’s always an interesting leap when a documentary director throws their hat into the ring to make a fiction film. I’m sure many of us long for the day when Michael Moore might make a buddy cop movie, but, until that (sure to be unfortunate) time comes, let’s look at what we have here.
It’s a romantic comedy, absolutely, with gags by the dozen, Judd Apatow-esque dialogue and a formula as old as Roger Ebert, but that doesn’t stop it from being a good time and, for those of us who know firsthand what the characters are going through, probably a really important time. I was touched by the film’s honesty and its dedication to what it was considering. I don’t have a very hard heart, so I’m moved by a lot of romantic comedies. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve “Aw!”-ed way too many times during Sandra Bullock’s career. With Going the Distance, though, I think it’s different. A lot of specific things are discussed and presented to the audience, but in an extremely light and accessible way. That has always been a strong suit for Burstein, that if you don’t exactly understand emotionally what’s happening, you’ll still probably enjoy what you’re seeing. That, also, is the strong suit of a natural director.
I can’t speak too much praise for the screenplay. Yes, it has its formulaic moments; certain things have to tidy up well for this type of film to be successful. It’s far from perfect, but I can see myself re-watching it again and again and still enjoying myself. It’s refreshing in that it’s definitely a movie for adults. The screenplay has a spark that, I think, is undeniable, and that spark is brought to life by Justin Long and Drew Barrymore; their chemistry is second to none. It’s their believability that made me buy the quick love they assumed. They didn’t allow me to be cynical, because, let’s face it: things like this do happen, and often. It’s probably happening right now.
The technical specs are a bit all over the place. Some of the camera work was a bit too “documentary” for what was happening, almost like it was some sort of unconscious tongue-in-cheek nod to Jon Gunn, Brian Herzlinger and Brett Winn’s My Date With Drew the 2004 documentary comedy about a man trying to date Barrymore. The sound quality felt a bit rushed, and the editing was stale from time to time. The success of this film is thanks to the script, its undeniably honest and fervent director, and the two leads. The supporting cast doesn’t have much to do except make us laugh; everything else is quite literally in the hands of Long and Barrymore. Obviously, this wasn’t going any sort of distance for the awards season upon its release, but it made me feel like everything these people, and some of us around the world, are going through at the moment is worth it. It spoke to me, and in a very specific way; that’s what a truly good film does.
Contact the author: ScottMartin@MoviesIDidntGet.com