Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Going the Distance (dir. Nanette Burstein)

Never underestimate what can be done with a great cast and likeable protagonists.

Going the Distance is far from a perfect film or even a very good one. It tells a much longer story than really works when you're trying to bring it in under two hours, without really acknowledging this essential problem. The movie takes place over the course of a year or so, but this is one of those films where not a lot seems to happen between the moments they choose to show us from this time. A lot of the jokes fall flat, and the supporting characters are pretty stock. The romance central to the film is built almost entirely via montage.

But it does work in a way these sort of stock films so often don't, and a lot of credit goes to the cast. Justin Long and Drew Barrymore play Garrett and Erin, who fall in love before Erin has to move away and try to make a go of it in a long-distance relationship. These are two fairly polarizing performers, and the worst things you can say about them are because of these sorts of roles, where they have to be relatable and likeable but simply come off as bland.

Luckily, writer Geoff LaTulippe has a character that seems tailor-made for Barrymore, giving us her usual ditz five or ten years down the line as a 31-year-old intern trying to make up for the follies of youth. Both she and Long are given actual characters with wants and desires totally outside of what they're looking for in each other, and their struggles are driven by what real people struggle with in their situation - trying to wed professional aims with a relationship that works really well. They don't fight over stupid, shallow things. They don't take petty measures to "get back" at the other person. They're just normal people trying to make the best of a bad situation. It seems simple, and yet this is the exception.

What really makes this film rev is the supporting cast. Erin lives with her sister's family, and Christina Applegate and Jim Gaffigan are just as good as you'd expect. Applegate is hindered by playing what could commonly be defined as the Leslie Mann in Knocked Up role, which is an irritating, never funny character, but she pushes through all right in some key moments. Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis play Garrett's friends; Day is playing a more likeable version of his It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia madman, which will cause someone to say he "can only do that one thing," but...c'mon. Assuming that is true - I'm not familiar with the guy enough to know if that's all he has - any actor would kill to do one thing as well as Day does his thing, and any scene with him and Sudeikis is gold.

Sudeikis and Gaffigan ended up being the stand-outs in the cast for me. They're doing something you have a hard time coming across in mainstream comedies - the earnestly performed, ego-free supporting performance. There's no way to put it other than that they play the role they're given, and they play it very well. Better than either of the leads, and better than most leads in most films. Like a lot of things about this film, their performances are the kind of thing we should be able to take for granted. As we can't, they're almost worth seeing the film for all on their own.

I'm dying for some film to save the mainstream romantic comedy, that most despised of genres that too often earns its hate but which I do actually kind of love. This isn't it, but it's helping. It's sweet, and it tries to get at some real issues, and it does have a handful of very, very funny moments, but ultimately comes up a little short in some key areas.

No comments: