Twitter Arguments Come Alive: Is Half-Wrong Worse Than All Wrong? : Monkey See A discussion of one of 2010's most (or possibly least) successful romantic comedies, Going The Distance, leads to a broader discussion of whether it's worse to get your movie half-wrong, or totally wrong.
NPR logo Twitter Arguments Come Alive: Is Half-Wrong Worse Than All Wrong?

Twitter Arguments Come Alive: Is Half-Wrong Worse Than All Wrong?


It's the holiday season, my Christmas shopping isn't done, and I have to go out of town later this week. So naturally, I've been passing time this morning arguing with critic Scott Tobias on Twitter about the Justin Long-Drew Barrymore romantic comedy Going The Distance.

Scott thinks it's the Most Pleasant Surprise of 2010; I think it's a cynical, phony sell-out of an initially promising idea.

(If you are wildly concerned about reading spoilers concerning Going The Distance — and you shouldn't be — you might want to run right now and watch it [eye-roll] before you read further.)

The outline of Going The Distance is that Long and Barrymore meet and start dating, but she has to leave New York when her internship ends — and she doesn't just have to leave; she has to go all the way across the country to San Francisco. Since they've only been together about six weeks, this creates the prototypical long-distance problem: you can't know more until you're in the same place, and you can't uproot your lives to get to the same place until you know more. It's truly, terribly vexing, especially for two people with settled local attachments, and initially, the movie seems to understand that.

Moreover, once they (inevitably) decide that they are indeed going to pursue this long-distance thing, the script does a decent job of diving into some of the challenges. What about the suspicions that build when you never know where someone is? What about the logistics and expense associated with visiting? What about sex? They both have jobs, they both have lives, they both have the challenges created by limited options in a cramped economy. (In other words, it's not like she — as an aspiring journalist — can just show up in New York and expect to get a job.) Even if you were willing to gamble on a relationship where you've only been in the same place for a few weeks, how do you decide who moves? What about the resentment the moving person might feel?

It's all very real, and it's all pretty smart, if featherweight in tone. And, as Scott pointed out, it's buoyed by nice supporting performances from Jim Gaffigan, Christina Applegate, and Jason Sudeikis, among others — a very high-octane cast.

And then it utterly, completely chickens out. All of a sudden, an answer just materializes, ding!, and all the problems go away, and all the issues are resolved, and there's a totally false resolution, and after spending a whole movie arranging this complex story, everybody just walks away from it. The story as it actually exists during the movie is really just abandoned; the deus ex machina feels pinned on as extraneously as a tail on a donkey — and as blindly, too.

Ultimately, this kind of thing can bother me more than a movie that never gets anything right to begin with. I mentioned to Scott that I was even more aggravated by Going The Distance than I was by The Switch, a movie so utterly forgettable that I stumbled across its title last night and then spent a disturbingly long time trying to call it to mind, even though I saw it less than four months ago.

Remember The Switch? Jason Bateman? Jennifer Aniston? Sperm donation gone awry? It's relentlessly terrible (on this, Scott and I agree), but it rolled right off of me, because it was dumb at the beginning and dumb at the end, and I never cared about it, so I was never disappointed. (See also: How Do You Know, which came out this weekend and bored me literally to sleep almost from the outset.)

The ones that start out with some wit and then seem to willfully abandon it wind up being the ones I remember with more disdain. I like to think I can appreciate the good qualities in a weak movie (as an example, Owen Wilson has some funny scenes in How Do You Know), but there's something about collapsing the central conflict — a central conflict that was, for once, actually perplexing rather than lovable but utterly absurd — that makes me grind my teeth.

So what it left me wondering is: Are you like this, too? Are you more irked by a good start followed by a collapse than by a failure from top to bottom, or does that failure to give partial credit wind up punishing films more harshly for being less awful?