Going the Distance; R, 102 minutes; Opening Friday

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Why is it so weird to see Drew Barrymore and Justin Long sharing a bong and making out? And humping on the kitchen table? And having relatively explicit phone sex? Is it just that such supercute people normally don’t do these things in cookie cutter romantic comedies? Is it because they’re together—or were, or will be, or whatever—in real life? Is it because it’s just plain embarrassing to see them both trying so hard?

Cuteness explodes everywhere in this too cute rom-com, starring Drew Barrymore and Justin Long, on- and off-again lovers in real life.

You’d think Going the Distance could capitalize on the pity it evokes. As a tale of the modern struggle for a bicoastal balance of work and life, with a pair of stars who are as “just like us” as stars can be, it should seem chord-strikingly familiar. Like watching your friends striving against long odds in an uphill battle to stay together. Oh, wait—that would make a really awkward movie, wouldn’t it? 

Yeah, well, this movie is awkward. It’s like this: She’s in journalism school at Stanford, but doing a summer internship in New York—where he lives, and works for a record company, unhappily. They bond over cherished pop-culture artifacts (the Centipede arcade game, Tom Cruise in Top Gun), and discover new ones together (like the YouTube video of a panda sneezing). They have their lovey-dovey montage, set to music by the Cure. And, alas, they have their responsibilities. They bounce back and forth between New York and San Francisco, trying to make it work. Comic relief is supplied by his buddies (Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day) and her protective sister (Christina Applegate). 

It’s not entirely comic, and not really a relief. Yet our lovers keep trying. They are good sports. Sample exchange: 

“I have a tip,” he says.

“Is it the tip of your penis?!” she responds, and laughter ensues. That’s actually one of the more genuine moments in Geoff La Tulippe’s script, which otherwise seems almost compulsively ingratiating. It’s like he has some geriatric studio chief voice in his head, telling him: The kids talk dirty in the pictures these days. Put that in.

What’s more, director Nanette Burnstein used to make documentaries, so it’s startling how false her characterization of today’s journalism and music industries seems. Yes, yes, this is romantic comedy, not anthropology. Or, anyway, it’s supposed to be. Long has great timing, except when his director doesn’t. The same goes for Barrymore’s adorable, down-to-earth dignity. Consider it squandered.

You know, it might actually be good to confuse this Going the Distance with the National Lampoon sex romp of the same name from 2004. That might be a way to give both efforts the benefit of the doubt. And to remember that all things, if they keep going long enough, eventually will be gone.

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