Supporting cast ‘goes the distance’ in Burstein film

When the least exciting part of a film is the plot and lead actors, does that mean it’s a bad film?

Not always.

“Going the Distance” proves that even major flaws can be overshadowed by an excellent supporting cast, witty dialogue and just the right amount of cuteness.

The film stars off-screen couple Drew Barrymore and Justin Long as on-screen couple Erin and Garret. They meet in a New York bar when Garret interrupts Erin just when she’s about to beat her high score on the arcade game Centipede. And thus starts a nerdy whirlwind romance. It cannot last though, and they agree to cut the relationship off after the six-week mark. That’s when Erin must travel back to San Francisco to finish her master’s degree at Stanford (because every character in Hollywood goes to a prestigious private school).

But of course, the couple falls in love, even though they swore they wouldn’t. They try to make a long distance relationship work, but there are complications. It is pretty basic stuff for a romcom.

What’s not basic in “Going the Distance” (directed by Nanette Burstein) is Barrymore and Long’s support. Where their roles get bogged down by the necessity of predictable structure and obvious plot, every other character is free to say and do whatever they like, and that’s where things get good.

Garret’s roommate, Dan (Charlie Day), is refreshingly crazy, with Day in a role very similar to he plays on FX’s “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”

The third member of Garret’s man-trio, Box (Jason Sudeikis), works with Garret’s at a record label. Sudeikis is there solely to point out how ridiculous everything everyone does is, which in itself makes the movie that much less ridiculous. His one-liners and reactions work in perfect harmony with Day’s antics, making them the better thirds of Garret.

Erin’s sister Corinne (Christina Applegate) is fantastic as the up tight sister who isn’t afraid to speak her mind and be a little vulgar doing so. Her husband Phil (Jim Gaffigan) is her imperfectly perfect match.

But this is not to say that that Barrymore and Long suck the funny gas out of the theater when they are on screen. Long gets some good physical gags in and has precise timing when the script allows him to be funny.

Barrymore also has her moments, it’s just that none of them happen when she and Long share the screen. The movie’s laughs ultimately come from the actor’s individuality, unlike, say, “Step Brothers” where comedy is nurtured through riffing off another.

None of the characters take themselves seriously, proven by the honest portrayal of swearing, elaboration on crude topics and the growing of mustaches. But when the movie gets serious, the humor is hard to find.

Of course, you want everything to work out for Erin and Garret, the writing and acting does a sufficient job of getting you to care about their well being. The flaw is you expect them to.

If it wasn’t for some superb individual roles, “Going the Distance” would add nothing to the already saturated genre of romantic comedies. Thanks to an honest portrayal of crude behavior and the comedic edge that Erin and Garret’s friends and family provide, the film has laughs that only stop for Garret and Erin’s tumultuous romance.

Reach the reporter at pmelbour@asu.edu


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