Saturday, September 04, 2010

FILM REVIEW: Barrymore & Long's "Going the Distance" vs. Aniston & Bateman's "The Switch"

Last night, I saw two romantic comedies. First up was Going the Distance, which stars Drew Barrymore, Justin Long, Christina Applegate, stand-up comedian Jim Gaffigan, Jason Sudeikis ("SNL"), and Charlie Day ("It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia"). It's about a San Francisco Journalism grad student who accidentally falls in love with an indie music exec during her New York summer internship, and decides to have a long distance relationship. Then I saw The Switch, which stars Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman, Patrick WilsonJuliette Lewis, and Jeff Goldblum. It's about a woman in her late 30s, who decides she doesn't want to wait for a husband to have a baby, which her best friend is so against he drunkenly replaces the donor's semen with his.

I originally wanted to see The Switch so I could compare it to Jennifer Lopez's The Backup Plan, but after watching Going the Distance, I realized that they have more in common than a zany rom-com plot. Both films are about a woman missing out on a step in life that she feels she needs in order to move forward: Drew plays a grad student who gets a late-start career-wise because she fruitlessly followed her boyfriend to college, foregoing her professional ambitions. Jen plays a woman who spent so much time finding the one that she runs out of baby-making years. Both characters are a mirror of our current generation.

Going the Distance's unemployed+unfulfilled plot made an Up-in-the-Air-effort to illustrate the effects of the recession on media and entertainment careers. But even without the recession, this generation would've still had an astounding amount of 20somethings in a state of flux, constantly searching for themselves and incapable of finding their footingstill living at home, still bumming cash off their parents, still branding themselves Undeclared. People laugh at plots like The Switch and The Backup Plan, but at least those female characters have plans. There are thousandsI'm praying not millionsof 20somethings who are unemployedand some, I think, due to their fear of putting down roots and going the distance. They don't want to give into the idea that some day they'll have a 9-to-5 in a cubicle and an uneventful married life. They've been there and watched their parents do that. They don't want to repeat history, and as a result their scrambling for a more fulfilling future. Of course, breaking away from a path is difficult when there are no footsteps to follow. Going the Distance is about having the balls to get off the beaten path and go for the dream. The new American dream. If your label won't sign your favorite band, quit the label and go manage the band. If your Prince Charming hasn't arrived, skip the dating sites and get a sperm donor.

Both films were also about the idea of building a relationship with a friendship as a foundation. Drew & Justin kept calling each other their best friends. It even prefaced their declaration of love: "You're my best friend...and I love you." They didn't start out that way, but that was their go-to answer for why they stuck it out and went the distance. Jason & Jen dated a few times and then cultivated a 13-year friendship before realizing they were meant for each other. I've always thought the best love stories are the ones where the lovers are friends too. (Exhibit A: The forever classic When Harry Met Sally.) Because if you have nothing in common or nothing to talk about, all you have is sex and tolerance.

I commend these films for doing a great job of balancing comedy and drama, keeping it as realistic as they could while addressing real life issues. I appreciate that they weren't fueled by half-assed plots or chocked full of easy laughs. However, one was definitely much better than the other. The chemistry between Drew & Justin, whether it's because of their on-and-off-again public romance or not, was much more believable than Jason & Jen's. Bateman's always been amazing at being sardonic and self-deprecating, but I've yet to see him in a role where I truly believe he's in love with someone. Infatuated? Yes. Intrigued? Certainly. But not in love. The same goes for Jen. They're cold and mechanical. The scene where he apologized was rife with guilt and sorrow, but not passion. Even the proposal was weak. He asked "Will you marry me?" and she answered "Probably." While it may be a unique and adorably coy answer, it also seemed indicative of their dynamic. It was like, after 13 years, she might as well marry him, instead of after 13 years, she finally gets to marry him. Jen and Jason know how to read the lines and deliver the emotion, but they're not very good at connecting with each other. Some people connect well and some just coexist in the same film. The good news is though that Jen's surprisingly good at playing a mom, and given her public track record of avoiding the topic of motherhood, I think that's impressive.

Going the Distance also had the better cast, and therefore better laughs. Call me crass but comments like Sudeikis' "You cut your own hair and suck your own dick? You're like a Swiss Army knife," and Charlie's "Why aren't there any baby pigeons in New York City?" were pretty hilariousand really, why aren't there? Charlie also had two other great moments: when he tried to "DJ their hookup" and play the theme song of Justin's favorite movie, Top Gun, and when he started ranting near an old lady about how ferociously Justin masturbates, then proceeds to help her across the street and engage in an alarming conversation about how she now plans on dissuading her teenage grandson from masturbating.

Thankfully, the ladies got some laughs in too. Drew and Christina griped about how annoying it is when men seek approval while they're giving them head, and Drew had an enjoyable drunken tirade about how only steroid-juiced misogynists enjoy Michael Bay's films. She even enjoyed a little sexual innuendo with Justin, when he offered her a different kind of "tip" while she was waitressing, or as he put it "20% of my dick." But, fear not squeamish prudes, there was also some PG humor. Christina, who had a marriage that was far more believable than Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd's in Knocked Up because they were genuinely boring suburbanites, had a running joke where she kept yelling "Maya! Statue!" at her kid to make her stop moving erratically. It was a little unnerving to realize that no matter how inappropriate it is to treat your child like a dog, you really can't wait to use that trick on your own kid, and you pray to God it works.

The Switch cast, while more mature, was less about the comedy and more about furthering the plot to get us back to the main characters. Juliette was her usual crazy ass hippie self, but I love that she wasn't just a flower-loving feminist. I mean, she used words like "energy" and "free-thinker," but she also had a bit of the city girl in her, capitalizing on every opportunity to undercut Jason's self-esteem and then just walk off. It was like an insult drive-by. Goldblum was grossly underutilized as the advice-laden best friend. And I gotta say I did not like Patrick Wilson as the adrenaline-junky, outdoorsy alpha male. Technically, we weren't suppose to like him, but I just couldn't believe that this blue-eyed, blonde-haired, sweet-faced giant was a yuppy cabin-building, mountain-climbing, beer-making douchebag. He wasn't a lovably misunderstood guy. He was just miscast. That's not to say he can't play a douchebag. He proved that he could in this summer's The A-Teamjust not the kind who's done nothing wrong.
Of course, there were a few laughs in The Switch. But most of them involved the unlikeliest of comedians, the young Thomas Robinson, whose blonde 11-year-old older brother Bryce actually starred in Marley & Me opposite Aniston. His comic timing was buoyed by his consistent pouting and puppy-dog eyes. It was like a mini-depressed-person had possessed a 6-year-old, an opinionated obsessive hypochondriac who thinks his mother is a lesbian because he has no dad, collects picture frames so he can pretend the stock-photo-families in them are related to his mysterious father, demands a birthday party at a kill shelter so he can force the partygoers to adopt helpless animals, and keeps his dead lice as pets. It sucks when cute-kid syndrome has a way of ruining an actor's career before it even starts, but something tells me this kid's ability to emote so intensely will take him further than most. Bateman, in his commitment-phobic neurotic character, played well off of him. I especially liked it when he tried to relate to him and clean-up his way of talking, telling him that the best way to get rid of a bully is to act crazy and "act like you don't give a fu...nion." Does it suck when comedians veer into children-related films? Yes, but Bateman still manages to come out untainted.

There were two scenes that if added could've made The Switch a little better: Thomas standing up to the bully, and Bateman explaining that he was his father. They were going for heart and giving us a taste of what Bateman's character would be like as a dad, and both those scenes would've really enhanced that emotional connection. But they sort of skipped past it, showing you the aftermath and giving you a photo montage. Ultimately, I felt Barrymore's film made more of an effort. Yes, yes, here comes the pun. It went the distance.

Going the Distance: B
The Switch: B-

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