If you want proof that the American romantic comedy is in a dismal state, trapped halfway between apology and experiment, you need look no further than "Going the Distance," which features real-life couple Drew Barrymore and Justin Long as a likable young recession-era duo separated by a continent, a lack of funds and a cloudy future. I don't mean that this movie is strikingly good or strikingly bad, in cosmic terms -- it's a solid but totally forgettable entertainment, redeemed somewhat by Barrymore's loud, horsey laugh and some agreeably racy comic situations.
Here's the thing: Simply by trying to break free of the hoariest situations and archetypes, and to create characters who talk and behave somewhat like actual young (or at least youngish) middle-class Americans, director Nanette Burstein and her cast have made the year's best mainstream rom-com. But seriously, consider the competition: Two "comeback vehicles" for fading stars named Jennifer, both of them self-fulfilling prophecies about the difficulties faced by American actresses over 40, both of them encouraging the media to be both observers and enablers of Hollywood sexism. (Yeah, mea culpa on that one.) "Sex and the City 2," a genuinely idiotic film that got beaten up out of all proportion. "Eat, Pray, Love," which of course doesn't really qualify as a rom-com, but would have been a lot better if it did. And I can't go back to February and revisit the fact that I actually spent a little bit of my life watching "Valentine's Day." I just can't.
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