Garrett (Justin Long) and Erin (Drew Barrymore) meet cute over a game of Centipede in Going the Distance, though their subsequent long-distance romance breeds mainly a desire to see them and their friends suffer Human Centipede-style torment. Nanette Burstein’s rom com fervently follows its genre’s trademark formula, its lack of imagination so pronounced that it’s a miracle Cake’s “The Distance” doesn’t appear on the soundtrack.
Its exclusion leaves plenty of room for ‘80s songs and accompanying pop-culture references, which embellish the ups and downs of record label employee Garrett and aspiring journalist Erin’s flowering amour, which begins while Erin is still interning at a New York newspaper and continues, unsteadily, once she returns to San Francisco to finish her graduate degree. In what will come as a surprise to no conscious Earthling, Garrett and Erin both have a few wannabe-goofy pals and/or siblings, their joyous times together in Manhattan and online are recounted through squishy montages, and the pain of separation eventually threatens to push them into the arms of super-hot others.
As befitting a real-life couple, Barrymore and Long’s chemistry is natural, with the stars exuding genuine compassion for each other even when—as is perpetually the case—their chit-chat proves strained and their grating, self-absorbed characters’ circumstances ring false. Working from Geoff LaTulippe’s labored script, Burstein puts her protagonists through routine paces that are only made mildly unique (which is not to be confused with interesting) by R-rated dialogue. In a desperate bid to be edgy via dirty sex talk, Garrett’s sidekicks (Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day) discuss self-performed blowjobs and Erin’s tense homemaker sister (Christina Applegate) details the merits of adult dry-humping.
Through it all, Burstein randomly utilizes handheld cinematography (to remind us she’s a former documentarian?), ‘70s mustaches are posited as the surest way to woo older women, facile allusions to the newspaper industry’s dire state of affairs are made, and Garrett learns—in the story’s inanely condescending central moral—that the key to making love last is understanding that when women say they want one thing, they really want the opposite. Then again, it’s tough to expect more from a film that borrows a spray-tanning-gone-awry gag from Old Dogs.