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IN SHORT: Been There Done That. . . unless you haven't*** [Rated R for Sexual Content including Dialog, Language Throughout, Some Drug Use and Brief Nudity. 102 minutes]
***that means that we watched Going the Distance at an afternoon screening in the WB room, with critics here and there and secretaries of the company and their BFFs in for a long lunch there and here. It is a perfect example of a generational divide and will have a lot to do with what you read in the following paragraphs.
At least once a summer there is the usual girl meets boy, girl loses boy yadda yadda -- happy ending or tear-jerker tragic fade to black useless romantic comedy for the new teen and 20s generation. Here is this year's example of what can happen when no one involved in the basic nuts and bolts of building the film project does anything more than take the money and run. The story is hack. The dialog and script are painful. The performances are walk through and, frankly, we expect that Going the Distance could go down on the very long list of films that will be known for getting their audiences to talk back at the screen. So says Cranky, and a couple of TV critics we know that broke the cardinal rule and discussed our reactions (while waiting for another film to begin its review screening). Granted, the critics in this example are all old enough to have children pretty close to the demographic of the characters on screen. More or less.
Since the generational gap is our main theme today, it is just a matter-of-course that critics don't discuss their reactions with other critics. Not in the rooms. Not while considering what to write. Not at all, until any necessary end of year discussions for awards purposes, if need be. Bloggers, on the other hand, will spill their guts in a New York minute. The younger the blogger, the less connected the "writer" the fewer of these formulaic films seen. The secretaries all asked their friends for reactions after the screening ... while waiting on line for the bathroom, of course, and the 20something ladies were all chipper and "I Liked It!"
I wish them all a prosperous career in whatever they ultimately decide to do with their lives. Which brings us back to . . .
Erin Rankin Lanford (Drew Barrymore) is a San Francisco native spending her summer as a college intern at a major metropolitan newspaper -- the New York Sentinel. She hopes the internship will lead to a job offer is a real life detail (though most employers insist that you finish school first. And maybe long before you hit thirty... Erin is 31) The economy is in the toilet, of course. An offer doesn't materialize and that means the usual means of venting frustration . . .
A local bar and a game or three at one of those old monster-sized video pinball games -- that is what they were first called back in the day. The game of choice is Centipede, and the high score belongs to someone with the initials ERL. Just so's you know
Erin drops the quarter just before our next character enters the scenario. He is Garrett Austin Scully (Justin Long), an age undefined A&R semi-honcho at Diesel Records. (Record companies used to be important in the days before MP3 downloads wrecked the economics of the business. With the business imploding around him, and a boss insisting that he shepherd boy bands to the top of the charts, Garrett is fairly burned out at his job, too. At this moment, all he wants to do is play that Centipede game. He lays his quarter down and is told it's going to be a long wait.
Yeah, right, so says a girl . . . and this would have been totally believable if the characters were fifteen. But they are not. Scully's friends Box (Jason Sudeikis) and Dan (Charlie Day) may behave like drunken teens but they are strictly comic relief. Scully himself is astounded to discover that High Score ERL is that fine looking woman and ... he accidentally blocks her line of sight and wrecks the game in progress so he owes her a beer and . . . so begins a rockin' booze and bong infused evening.
Who needs love when you can have a good time and blow off the necessary steam. Every one night stand has that awkward conversation, and so it is here. But one night leads to a couple of more and soon a random passing becomes a "fling" [insert whatever vocabulary may be current as you wish] and something resembling love begins. At least until Erin has to go back to the California coast, to live with her married sister, Corinne (Christina Applegate). Corinne is constantly cleaning the house, urging Erin to make some kind of commitment -- to a career, to a guy, to a city to live in to pursue her dreams . . . in short, anything.
Garrett still has feelings. So begins the long distance (NY - SF) love thing. Going the Distance is still on course at this point but . . .honestly, the language and tech in this film may be 2010 but almost everything else about this film screams 1985. We're not talking clothes or tech. We're talking dating dos and don't and gaffes and BFF commentary etc etc etc. From Cranky's side of the generational divide, we can almost hear the author of the the story screaming "yes, this script has been locked in a desk drawer since my last draft was done in the late 80s. Please make this film so I can get medical !!! My hip needs replacement"
The darned thing is that if only a wee bit of effort was put into the work, something watch-able may have spun out by the end of the tale. It's not as if there aren't dozen(s) forgettable rom-coms hitting the big screen every year. In this case, the script never would have passed a first read in a freshman level Intro To Screenwriting class. More thought seems to have been put into moments of comic relief provided by the supporting characters than to developing the natural dialog and conversations that a long distance love affair would bring about.
When we began writing these reviews over fifteen years back, we set a level for the immediately disposable dateflick -- the thing you see just to get two hours of the date out of the way so you can try to get to the good stuff. Well, for those teens and collegiates who want to kill the time to get to the good stuff, here you go.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Going the Distance, he would have paid . . .
Anyone beyond college age will be wasting their money.
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