This past weekend, I saw two movies. One was a completely unrealistic piece of cinema trash with stale characters and a script that seemed to have been made up on the spot. The other was “Machete.” That’s right. Of the two, I could more easily believe in Danny Trejo as an ex-Federale-turned-asssassin-landscaper than believe in the relationship that Drew Barrymore carried on with the “I’m a Mac” guy. It wasn’t just a bad movie, it was a betrayal of its content and of the, ahem, heritage that these two actors bring to the screen.
I don’t love Drew Barrymore, but my wife sure does, so I have the pleasure of seeing every Drew Barrymore release, usually stuffed on some ethnic food or other of which my wife is not a fan. Ahh, the pleasures and compromises of date night: I get Banh Mi, you get “50 First Dates.” But one of the things I’ve always liked about Drew Barrymore is that she usually doesn’t play an idiot or an out-of-reach icon. You might enjoy watching Julia Roberts on screen, but you’ll never feel like you know anyone like her. Drew Barrymore, on the other hand, is like the nice woman you work with. She does a good job, she’s funny and she doesn’t get offended by your jokes, and she seems to have a clue about how the world works. In her movies, she’s almost always upwardly mobile with a promising future. She’s well-liked by tough bosses.
Justin Long started his movie career as a geek. His first movie was “Galaxy Quest,” where he played a true believer who is vindicated when it turns out Star Trek is really real. He played a cheap Neo rip-off in the last “Die Hard” movie. He is “I’m a Mac.”
So, here’s my point. These people are too smart to be carrying on a long distance relationship this way. No wonder it failed. The movie revolves around their relationship as it moves from a 6-week fling to a long-distance, long-lasting affair. Over the course of a year apart, the two see each other maybe a half dozen times, the latter half of which are spent decided if I’m a Mac should move in with Firestarter out in California, or if she should wait tables in New York City while she tries to find a job there. I won’t ruin the end for you, because it doesn’t matter, anyway. By the time I got to the end, I felt like these two people were the biggest technophobe idiots I’d ever seen, and I couldn’t care less if they actually got together.
Mac guy and E.T. girl spend most of their time talking on the phone. Fair enough, perhaps. They text occasionally, mostly in the beginning of their relationship. That’s about it. That’s all the communication we see. They start making friends and get suspicious of each other’s lives apart. Best friends and older sisters, married with children, get involved. But when these two aren’t visiting, they’re mostly talking on the phone. Sometimes, they even talk on landlines.
I’ve tried the long distance relationship thing. For a year after I graduated High School, my girlfriend and I tried to stick together, and it didn’t work out. Forget cell phones, there were times when she didn’t even have a landline at her apartment, and we had to schedule phone calls on pay phones. For the younger crowd, a pay phone is a type of phone that is cemented to the ground and you have to pay for a call every time with loose change. They were very popular until about 1998.
I’m not going to blame my doomed relationship on a lack of technology, but a wealth of technology can definitely keep a long distance relationship not only alive, but vital. I’ll never forget the first time I met my sister’s boyfriend. She turned her laptop in my direction and said “Hey, that’s Bas.” I waved hello, he waved back. She turned the laptop back to face her, and that was that. Now we had been introduced. He was living in Amsterdam at the time. We were on vacation at the beach.
My sister lived with Bas, her Dutch boyfriend, for quite some time before he had to move back to the Netherlands. She lived in Brooklyn while he lived in Amsterdam, and for a year straight, she was glued to her laptop screen. When they weren’t chatting over video with Skype, they were using Google Chat on their phones to keep in touch. They rarely placed a phone call, there was hardly any need.
Bas was more than just a boyfriend at the other end of a video call. He became an active participant in her life. Bas would hang out on the couch with us and watch television. Bas went on car rides with us. Occasionally, Bas would pipe up during dinner. If my sister said “Bas thinks we should . . . ,” it wasn’t unusual or extraordinary to be getting advice on our daily plans from a Dutch man just waking up for an early morning as we’re deciding where to go after dinner.
It’s not like the characters in “Going the Distance” are living a decade in the past, or haven’t heard of the Internet. Drew Barrymore has a Skype video chat with her sister early in the movie. But for some reason, the voice of Alvin and Poison Ivy can’t get their act together to trade usernames. Forget about the time they could have spent longingly gazing into each other’s eyes. The entire horrible, awkward phone sex scene could have been completely avoided with a digital camera and some basic knowledge of MySpace photo angle. Then, work your way up to Skype intimacy. Practice on Chatroulette, so she’ll never know you haven’t done this before.
It wasn’t just Skype that could have helped their relationship. The way these characters lead their lives is simply unrealistic, especially for two people who are so desperate to stay connected to each other. Would Zerk from “The Sasquatch Gang” really have minded so much if Amy Fisher from TV’s “The Amy Fisher Story” had gone out with a gang of friends after work if he had seen the lame, poorly lit pictures of their night painting the town grainy? Certainly, when she talked about the bartender who chatted her up, he could have gained some perspective on the situation at worst, and at best actually gotten to know the guy personally. Her friends, long distance even, could have become his friends. His friends, on the other hand, are losers with no sense of humor, and she could do much better.
The New York Times review makes this rambling piece of trash seem original, especially in its take on a subject, long distance relationships, that hasn’t been handled by romantic comedies in the past. I think it still hasn’t been handled well, as the relationship in “Going the Distance” seems intent on failure, as the writers and actors seem to have no handle on the way people live their lives today, and even more, on the way we live our lives far apart.