And now for some of the most shocking words in the English language… Going the Distance, which for those not in the know is a Drew Barrymore movie, is actually not half bad. I mean, it’s your typical rom com, but it’s got some legitimately funny parts and actual emotional sincerity. But that isn’t even the most shocking piece of the puzzle. Ladies and gentleman, Going the Distance was ACTUALLY directed by a woman, Nanette Burstein to be exact.
Now, what does that mean for Going the Distance? It means ACTUALLY fully realized female characters. Why is this so shocking, you might ask. Well, for fans of romantic comedies in the audience, head over to IMDb and see how many of your favorites have been directed by women. Go on, I dare ya. It’s a surprisingly low number, given that women are the focus of most of these movies. But Nanette Burstein brings women to the forefront (in all their insecurity, frustration and beauty) and even sets a questioning of prescribed gender roles into motion with Garrett, Justin Long’s character.
But who are we kidding? Garrett’s not the point here. Sure, he seems to get the most screen time, but surprisingly enough, Erin, played by Drew Barrymore, is what got me excited about this movie. Like I said, there’s a staggering number of rom coms out there that are essentially pre-packaged sentimental depictions of “this is what male directors think female audiences want to see and/or hear.” But Burstein does something different here (Editor’s note, the film was written by Geoff LaTulippe who deserves an equal amount of credit for these characters) with the character of Erin. She likes sex.
It may sound like such a minor point, but it really is a landmark in terms of the romantic comedy. Think about it, how many times is the movie about the woman conforming to the man’s standards? How often is a woman demonized for enjoying sex? I don’t have any solid stats here, but as a film student, I can assure you that it’s staggering. With Erin, her enjoyment of sex is a part of the relationship between the two leads. It doesn’t help or hinder her, but it serves to flesh her out as a woman. At several points in the movie it’ll serve as a cheap joke here or there, but it is never a judgment.
In many ways, Going the Distance is your average romantic comedy. There’s the couple in question and the question that looms overhead of whether they’ll make it or not, but it manages to feel different. The characters are developed in a way that sets it apart from so many other romantic comedies. It won’t be winning any awards, sure, but it should be recognized as a shift in female-centric cinema. Sure, Nancy Meyers has been doing the same thing for a little over a decade, but where Nancy Meyers fails is her inability to flesh out both sexes. The men in her films are usually reduced to caricatures. Going the Distance finds a way to flesh out men and women alike, but it is the frank and funny portrayal of Erin that makes this average rom com a game changer.