Let’s face it: romantic comedies of the last 15 years have sucked.

At their best they’re sappy, predictable bores with artificial caricatures of men and women filled with lame slapstick bits and terrible dialogue that seems is so baldy written for laughs that the actors seem to mug at the camera after every punchline, “Get it? Get it!?” At their worst, they make you want to scoop out your own eyes with a rusty melon-baller so you’ll never have to see a movie starring Kate Hudson ever again.

It wasn’t always like that. Once upon a time, rom-coms were smartly written, honest, and a serious joy to watch (‘Annie Hall’, anyone?). Now Drew Barrymore and Justin Long are finally resurrecting the genre in a clever, realistic romantic comedy in ‘Going the Distance’.

The plot is simple: Erin (Drew Barrymore) is finishing up an internship in the unstable newspaper industry in New York when she meets Garret (Justin Long). The two decide to keep their relationship light and title-free since she’ll be leaving for San Fransisco in six weeks. As you would expect, they fall in love. Can their bi-coastal love with stand the long distance?

It would be so easy for ‘Going the Distance’ to dissolve into the usual rom-com cliches with a plot like this but, somehow, it doesn’t. The female characters aren’t shoe-obsessed, whiny, and eat ice cream on dateless Saturday nights (they play Centipede and wear bow ties with tee shirts). The guys’ aren’t players who have to be tricked into settling down and giving up their much-loved ‘bro time’. These are characters that you root for, characters that you actually would be friends with. This is an honest movie, people. This is a good movie. There are no races to the alter or fights about wacky misunderstandings or conniving (or bitchy) rival suitors. The spats that Erin and Garret have are real and come from hurt feelings.

The success of ‘Going the Distance’ is a team effort. Certainly, a good chunk of the movie’s appeal can be attributed to the on-screen chemistry of off-screen couple Drew Barrymore and Justin Long. Barrymore shines (as always) and Long delivers a solid, sweet performance complete with a fearless spray-tan scene that proves he’s got talent, comedic chops, and that we should for once and all stop referring to him as “The Mac Guy.” The secondary cast is made up solely of scene-stealers including Jason Sudeikis, Christina Applegate, Jim Gaffigan and especially ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’’s Charlie Day.

The film’s appeal can also be attributed to Oscar-nominated director Nanette Burstein (‘American Teen’, ‘On the Ropes’) who grounds Erin and Garret’s falling-in-love montages with her documentary roots and improv instead of packaging it as sickly sweet music video complete with pop soundtrack. Geoff LaTulippe’s excellent script is also free of pretension. On one of Garret and Erin’s dates, they ask each other questions back and forth, making themselves laugh: “What’s your favorite food?” “Tortellini.” “How would you like to die?” “Eating too much tortellini.” It’s so refreshing to hear people talk like they were actually on a date. There’s no caricature of a good girl trying to spice things up with the naughty tips her girlfriend gave her. There’s no slick guy with perfect stubble and commitment issues mugging for the camera and delivering eye-roll worthy pick up lines. That doesn’t happen in the real world and that doesn’t happen in ‘Going the Distance’.

Fair warning: ‘Going the Distance’ is bawdier than the sweet-as-pie trailer suggests. There’s some disastrous phone sex, beer drinking on the toilet, and some other things that Katherine Heigl or Matthew McConaughey wouldn’t be caught dead doing. . . but isn’t that all the more reason to go see it?

Share this! (You know you want to.)

Got something to say? Say it loud!