Long-distance relationships are hard, regardless of how many airline miles you’re racking up. 2010’s Going the Distance explores the hard work that goes into keeping a relationship alive from afar, while perpetuating the dreaded “cool girl” trope. Let’s dive in!
Erin (Drew Barrymore), a snarky 31-year-old intern at the fictional New York Sentinel newspaper, is behind in life, having prioritized her past relationship over her career. Garrett (Justin Long), an A&R executive at a small record label, is a commitment-phobe who gets dumped after he fails to buy his girlfriend a birthday present. The night he gets kicked to the curb, he and his buds head to a very Brooklyn-circa-2010 bar/arcade where he meets Erin, who’s dominating a game of Centipede. When Garrett causes her to lose her high-scoring game, she chews him out and he buys her a beer. That sets off a drunken, stoned one-night stand that leads to breakfast, where Erin confesses that she’s moving back to San Francisco in six weeks. Unfortunately, the two are smitten and decide to keep dating from across the country, and deal with missing each other, jealousy, and an eventual break-up. In the end, they find their way back to one another from a more sustainable distance, because this is a rom-com and if they all died in a plane crash at the end it’d be a different kind of movie.
The Hell No
Going the Distance deserves some credit for its rare, accurate portrayal of a struggling woman journalist, who miraculously, doesn’t have sex with a subject to get ahead in her career, unlike countless other onscreen women journalists. It also honestly depicts the strain of staying together when you’re physically apart.
But the film hits Hell No territory with Barrymore’s character, who is the ultimate cool girl. A close cousin to the rom-com quirky girl (as seen in anything starring Zooey Deschanel) and the manic pixie dream girl (coined in 2005 by critic Nathan Rubin, who based the term on Kristen Dunst’s character in Elizabethtown), the cool girl is basically a hot tomboy who loves sex and sports, can hang with the boys, and would never pressure a guy to turn a casual affair into something more.
Erin swears like a sailor, makes raunchy jokes, busts the boys’ chops with bravado, eats chicken wings with abandon, and doesn’t blink when Garrett admits he had sex with her literally the day after his break-up. She cackles when Garrett admits he once kicked a girl out of bed by saying he had to meet his wife for breakfast. When Garrett’s roommate soundtracks their hook-up through their paper-thin walls, she isn’t weirded out. “I don’t care at all! I think it’s kind of awesome,” she says. Erin is not like other girls. She is effortlessly cool, down for a laugh, and rarely calls him out for shitty behavior.
Why is it so bad, anyway?
Erin is the polar opposite of Garrett’s ex Amy (Leighton Meester), who tearfully admits she only said she didn’t want a birthday present so Garrett would think she was so cool he’d want to buy her an extra special gift. Amy wants to not care, because she thinks a laid-back attitude will make her more appealing in a lazy-ass dude’s mind. Erin really doesn’t care, and is rewarded by receiving the extra special gift of Garrett’s love (and a Centipede poster. Sure, why not!). So, ladies, the message here is to [checks notes] not care that about getting mistreated, so your boyfriend will be kind to you because you’re easygoing. Cool indeed.
The cool girl trope perpetuates the idea that women should forego their own needs or beliefs to please men. A cool girl never challenges a man’s position of power; it’s part of what makes her hot. She’s even hotter when she’s into the same kinds of things guys like—Erin loves video games and her favorite movie is The Shawshank Redemption. A cool girl will throw other women under the bus to prove that she’s chill, and she has a tendency to emulate the worst, bro-ish behavior. See: a drunk Erin making a mess in her sister’s dining room, and not apologizing or helping her sister clean it. A cool girl never holds men accountable for mean, sexist, or misogynist actions, because then she’d be uptight. For instance, Erin laughs at mean things Garrett’s done to women in the past. Cool girls can be seen in movies from There’s Something About Mary to Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and they do nothing but further the idea that women exist to please men and that autonomous femininity is tiresome.
Don’t be an Erin. Being cool serves no one in relationships, especially women. Women don’t need to cater to men, or emulate them, to be worthy of love or respect. The only people who benefit from cool girls are gross dudes. A cool girl might like the “right” things but she inevitably becomes a doormat.
Alex Zaragoza is a senior staff writer at VICE. Follow her on Twitter.