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Originally published Thursday, September 2, 2010 at 3:02 PM

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Movie review

'Going the Distance': It's not quite like when Harry met Sally

"Going the Distance" is an R-rated romance that has its moments but is ultimately trying a little too hard (something Drew Barrymore, with her trademark lightness, never does).

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 2.5 stars

'Going the Distance,' with Drew Barrymore, Justin Long, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Christina Applegate. Directed by Nanette Burstein, from a screenplay by Geoff LaTulippe. 109 minutes. Rated R for sexual content including dialogue, language throughout, some drug use and brief nudity. Several theaters.

Someday, Drew Barrymore will make a great romantic comedy; really, who's better suited to do so? Slightly lisping, endearingly quirky (Why does she talk out of the side of her mouth? Does it matter?), eminently lovable — she's a sweet yet spiky Meg Ryan with an edge for the new millennium.

And though she was charming in "Music & Lyrics" (probably her best rom-com so far, despite a weak script), "50 First Dates," "Everyone Says I Love You" and "Never Been Kissed," she — and we — are still waiting for her to find a "When Harry Met Sally ... " of her own.

In the meantime, we have Nanette Burstein's "Going the Distance," an R-rated romance that has its moments but is ultimately trying a little too hard (something Barrymore, with her trademark lightness, never does).

At its center are Erin (Barrymore) and Garrett (Justin Long), a couple early in their 30s and early in their careers. She's a would-be journalist completing an internship at a New York newspaper; he's a low-level music industry executive. They meet on a trivia night in a bar. (Confirmation that this bar was made in heaven: The irresistibly funny Kristen Schaal, who can out-quirk Barrymore, is the trivia announcer.)

A relationship ensues, with a standard rom-com problem: She has to move back to California when her internship ends; he needs to stay in New York. Cue the phone sex, the frequent-flier miles, the interference by the people they live with (he: a goofball roommate, played by Charlie Day, who likes to provide soundtracks to Garrett's romantic life through the thin walls; she: a sister who inexplicably dislikes Garrett, a sardonic brother-in-law and a young sight-gag niece). Can this romance be saved?

Yes it can, because hidden among the raunch and the plot devices and the bad makeup (poor Barrymore, alas, looks almost waxen in some scenes) is something genuine that can't be scripted: a spark between Erin and Garrett that makes them different — and better — together than apart, and that makes you root for them.

"I am so tired of missing you," sighs Erin, late in the film, and we're tired of watching her without him.

It's not quite Harry and Sally, but Erin and Garrett will do, until a better couple comes along.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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