Erin Langford (Drew Barrymore) is a 31-year-old woman who is having trouble pacing her life. She is still in grad school and she recently got a job as a summer intern at a newspaper in New York. While out with a friend at a bar, she meets Garrett (Justin Long), who interrupts her game of Centipede. The two then drink together and end up at his place, where they smoke from a bong and have sex while Garrett's roommate Dan (Charlie Day) "DJs their hook up". The next morning, Erin is anxious to leave but Garrett asks her to have breakfast with him and she agrees. She then tells him that she is only in New York for six weeks and is not looking for a relationship. He agrees to keep things casual.
Erin and Garrett start having a fling, but they soon develop feelings for each other, and Erin tries to convince her boss to find her a permanent position. Before the end of her internship, she writes a well-received article, and her boss asks her to contact him in January regarding possible job openings. Meanwhile, Garrett, who works at a record label, is given an assignment to manage a band he does not like, and is starting to dislike his job.
They both continue with their fling, but when the six weeks are up they find it difficult to let go. After Garrett drives Erin to the airport they say goodbye, but just as Erin is about to leave Garrett runs after her and tells her that he is crazy about her and wants to have a long-distance relationship with her. She agrees.
Over the next couple of months Erin and Garrett spend all their free time texting and calling one another trying to work out times when one of them can fly in. Garrett surprises Erin by showing up on Thanksgiving and they have a very emotional reunion. When they go to Erin's sister Corrine's house (where Erin is currently staying), they start to have passionate sex on the dining table while, unbeknownst to them, Erin's brother-in-law, Phil, is having dinner. Corrine eventually walks in and there is an awkward moment. The next day, Erin and Garrett are out to see The Boxer Rebellion, and they agree that the band is good. Garrett gets jealous when he sees that Erin is friends with Damon, a handsome bartender who works with her. Garrett eventually has to leave and goes back to New York.
In January, Erin calls her summer internship boss and asks him about the possibility of a job. Her boss tells her they are not hiring—that in fact they have just laid off 100 employees. Not finding comfort in a phone conversation with Garrett, she goes and gets drunk with Damon and almost kisses him, but ends up going home. Later, her professor mentions that he recommended her for a position at the San Francisco Chronicle and she goes for an interview. Meanwhile, Garrett tries to have phone sex with Erin, but it does not go well.
A month later as Erin is packing to go to New York she gets a call from the Chronicle letting her know that she is hired. She goes to New York and tells Garrett, and the two have a fight. The next day they make up and he asks her to make the decision whether or not to accept the job. A week later he calls her and tells her he wants her to move to New York so that they can live together and start fresh. She agrees and he goes to San Francisco to sort things out. However, after a conversation with Corrine, Garrett realizes that he cannot be the reason that Erin turns down the job and the two part ways after an emotional conversation and a long hug in the airport.
Six months later Erin is doing well with her career, having written her first front page story, and Garrett has not been with any woman since Erin. He quits his job and starts managing The Boxer Rebellion, the first band he and Erin saw together. He sends Erin tickets to their show and she goes, not knowing that he is the manager. She runs into him there and he tells her he has moved to Los Angeles. Since that is only a few hours away from San Francisco, they have another chance at a relationship. Late that night they go back to Corrine's house, and interrupt Corrine and Phil dry humping on the dining-room table (like Garrett and Erin earlier in the film). The film ends with Erin's niece, Maya, descending from upstairs during the awkward moment, and they all scream "Maya! Statue!" (a running joke where Corrine always yells "Maya! Statue!" at her daughter to quiet her and make her stop moving around).
Three additional songs can be accessed through a link on the CD and on the digital deluxe version:
- The Boxer Rebellion – "Evacuate"
- Joe Purdy – "Miss Me"
- Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros – "40 Day Dream"
Initially, the film was to be released domestically on August 27, 2010, amid weak reviews, but Warner Bros. decided to push back the release date one week to September 3. This meant its opening weekend would coincide with the Labor Day weekend. Dan Fellman, Warner Bros. Domestic Distribution President, stated that "moving to the Labor Day weekend not only allows us to take advantage of the long holiday weekend, but gives us some distance from the other female-driven films releasing in August." Eventually, Going the Distance′s earliest release was on September 2, 2010, in eight countries including Australia, Argentina and Germany, one day before its North American release.
Going the Distance opened in 3,030 theaters in the United States and Canada on September 3, 2010, and grossed $6,884,964 in its opening weekend, ranking 5th at the box office behind The American, Machete, Takers and The Last Exorcism. The film eventually grossed $17,804,299 in North America, ranking 120th domestically for 2010. In foreign markets the film grossed $24,248,458, for a total worldwide box office of $42,052,757, which made it the 118th highest-grossing film of 2010.
The film was met with mixed reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a score of 53%, based on 160 reviews. The site's consensus states: "It's timelier and a little more honest than most romantic comedies, but Drew Barrymore and Justin Long's screen chemistry doesn't make up for Going the Distance's overall flatness and convoluted story." On Metacritic, the film holds a score of 51 out of 100, based on 31 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
USA Today′s Claudia Puig panned the writing, stating that "this premise, with better writing, could have made a much more compelling movie", and Lou Lumenick of the New York Post wondered "exactly at what audience the filmmakers thought they were aiming".
A. O. Scott of The New York Times said the film "acknowledges both the difficulty and the comic potential of the arrangement, and does so with enough insight and charm to make you wonder why frequent-flier love is not a more popular theme in romantic comedies", while Michael O'Sullivan of The Washington Post described it as "filthy, funny and kind of sweet". Tom Long of The Detroit News stated that the film's "constant raunch factor balances out its romantic center in a way that will likely surprise and please many", and Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle that it "captures the harshness and the sweetness of our time". Carrie Rickey of The Philadelphia Inquirer said "the film gets many things so right about the conflicts faced by a two-career couple looking for work in a shrinking economy", and Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly that the film is "the rare romantic comedy in which you can actually believe what you're seeing". Linda Barnard, film critic for Toronto Star, said that the film "is a reminder of the sorry state of the rom-com, where gross scenes and easy-to-write trash talk have replaced smart dialogue". Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune stated that "Geoff LaTulippe's story of a recession-era long-distance relationship and its hurdles takes its characters seriously", also praising Barrymore's performance, for whom The Boston Globe's film critic Wesley Morris said that "is becoming a serious comedic actor".
Justin Chang of Variety describes the film as "a bicoastal comedy with a bit of a bipolar disorder", while Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter panned the film and screenwriting implying that it is a "romantic comedy [which is] going wrong in so many different ways". Peter Travers, writing for Rolling Stone, concluded that "Barrymore and Long are both appealing, but not enough to sustain audience interest in the cinematic equivalent of dry-humping".