Oscar-nominated Nanette Burstein, previously known for directing documentaries, radically switches gears in her new comedy, Going the Distance, which takes an ultra-contemporary look at the long-distance relationship in the tech-savvy era of Skype and text messaging, subtly suggesting that the doomed associations the label conjures might want to catch up with the times. A fair percentage of the film merely celebrates the various media through which people living 3,000 miles apart might communicate, but ultimately reinforces the message that there’s nothing quite like the real thing . . . I think.

Drew Barrymore gives a passable performance as Erin, a 31-year-old journalism grad student at Stanford who is wrapping up a summer internship at a major newspaper in New York City. After another discouraging day on the job, she drowns her sorrows at a cool, divey neighborhood bar, which also happens to be the local hangout of Garrett (halfheartedly portrayed by the usually funny Justin Long), who has just been dumped earlier that evening by his high-maintenance but “appropriate” girlfriend. Garrett works at a small record label and hates his job, where he spends his time screening insubstantive pop bands that he deems beneath both himself and the undiscovered New York City talent he would prefer to sign. These two dissatisfied pre-professionals hit it off and share a pitcher of beer with Garrett’s friends, Dan (It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’s Charlie Day) and Box (Jason Sudeikis)—an inspired duo who deserve every laugh they get in this movie and, frankly, scream for more screen time.

After returning to Garrett’s home, partaking in illicit substances, engaging in painfully hackneyed “getting to know you” banter, and carrying on with a kind of cackling hysteria that would drive the most tolerant viewer to reach for some aspirin, the two finally get down to what is presumed to be an ol’ fashioned one night stand. However, whether it’s due to Erin’s dead-end work day or Garrett’s romantic letdown, they condemn themselves to an awkward morning-after breakfast, during which they clarify their non-plans to jump into anything serious (uh-huh) while simultaneously realizing how much they actually like each other (aww).

Of course, after six inseparable weeks with her unexpected boyfriend, Erin’s internship ends and she must return to her graduate studies at Stanford. The first few months they cope well with the separation, calling frequently, texting incessantly, devising ways to define their relationship, planning surprise visits, buying flowers, lighting candles, and having impatient, fervid sex—sometimes in less than appropriate locations.

Even the long-distance phase of relationships has its honeymoon period, and what follows; inevitable jealousy, frustration, and selfishness intrude on their previously harmonious relationship, and from that moment on things play out along a pretty prescribed path, leading to a denouement that compromises between utter lugubriousness and . . . well, reality. While the movie should be applauded for not hitting us over the head with lovey-dovey mush, it’s actually a bit anticlimactic, leaving us wondering what the point of the film was in the first place. Or maybe we’ve become a little too used to everyone living happily ever after.

Distance offers few genuine “laugh out loud” lines, and rarely lines delivered by the main characters. Day and Christina Applegate (who plays Corinne, Erin’s sardonic, jaded sister) deliver the truest performances, as both seem comfortable enough with their ability to be funny not to appear as if they’re trying too hard. Long and Barrymore—usually satisfactory performers—bring out the annoying in each other, partly because they’re too often portrayed giving googly eyes to outer space while holding cell phones to their ears. It’s bad enough when people do it to each other’s faces. Both Barrymore and Long bring more personality (not to mention less excessive, grating laughter) to scenes that exclude the other one. And someone needs to tell the costume designer that they are not portraying grunged-out teenagers.

Ultimately, Distance is a decent film if you don’t want to think about anything for a couple of hours, but don’t expect too much chemistry between the characters or any particular influx of wit. If you must go see it before it comes out on DVD, feel free to doze off except when the supporting characters start talking, and then you may actually leave the theater feeling like you’ve just seen a much funnier movie.

Starring: Drew Barrymore, Justin Long, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Christina Applegate
Director: Nanette Burstein
Runtime: 109 minutes
Distributor: New Line Cinema
Rating: R

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