Jonathan Levine has shrewdly taken a standard screwball romantic comedy and dressed it up to fit its stars. Long Shot is in a similar vein as The American President. In that movie, the President of the United States started dating, of all things, a lobbyist. Levine and his writers have updated the scenario for modern times and softened the political edges.
Long Shot may not come off as intelligent at first glance, but closer scrutiny will reveal scathing observational anger at the state of modern politics. Much like The American President, it has a sweetness and a charm to it, largely due to its stars. Long Shot just has a broader sense of humor.
Seth Rogen movies are part of the Judd Apatow genre of movies. Usually overlong and at times over-reliant on improvisation and not enough on the script. Luckily this time around the script is by Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah. Sterling, who has written for South Park and The Daily Show, and Hannah, who wrote The Post, imbues the movie with a forward momentum that rarely lags.
Mercifully, Long Shot doesn’t dwell on the premise its advertising does. It doesn’t get mired in the “out of her league” aspect of the couple. Instead, it just shows us Secretary of State Charlotte Fields (Charlize Theron) falling for an out of work journalist Fred Flarksy (Rogen). At it’s a heart, it is a screwball romance with screwball characters with very serious ideas.
Fred Flarsky may be one of the best “schlubby” names in modern cinema. Fred is a character right out of the Rogen repertoire. Yet with Sterling and Hannah’s script, Rogen is able to play an adult with ideas and principles. Fred is a firebrand journalist and impassioned op-ed columnist who may from time to time let his emotions get the better of him.
Long Shot takes the time to build it’s comedy as well as indulging in broad slapstick. President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk) was a television actor who played the president on a successful television show. He now wishes to leave the Presidency after one term, as he wants to pursue a career in the movies.
Throughout the movie, people remark how daring that is considering how few stars can make the transition from television to movies. Not for nothing but characters seem more interested in Chambers’s future than his current presidency. Why or how Charlotte came to work for Chambers is never really delved into, but her love and commitment to civil service are.
We learn from Fred that she ran for student council president and lost. “Her opponent ran on a ‘two prom’ platform.” Then, as now, she is concerned about the environment and wishes to change the world. Refreshingly, Long Shot doesn’t take the cynical route and make fun of her. Instead, Fred becomes enraged when she compromises or has to make a concession.
In other words, having a point of view and wanting to change things and better people’s lives is not a joke. Levine and his writers never treat it as such. Though what exactly Charlotte’s environmental plan is and what it contains is never really explored. But considering we don’t even know if she is a republican or democrat it is probably just as well. Shockingly though, Long Shot demurs when it comes to its own characters party affiliations yet it is still deeply political.
Beneath the gross-out humor, the vulgarity, and pratfalls, there beats a feminist heart. Charlotte Fields is fifty times more competent than the President of the United States, yet she has to beg and plead to get his endorsement for her own presidential run. Unlike most modern rom-coms, Charlotte doesn’t trip over herself or walk into walls. She is endearing simply because she is competent at her job and has a sense of humor.
More to the point, Long Shot ultimately realizes that Charlotte can run for president and have Fred. Being successful doesn’t mean she has to sacrifice her happiness. She is allowed to have both.
We understand why Fred falls for her because we fall for her. Yes, Theron is gorgeous, but Levine and the script allow her to be wonderfully goofy and human. After their first kiss, Fred admits it’s one of the more amazing things to ever happen to him. “Not for you, obviously—you’ve met Bruce Springsteen.” “Yeah, but this was a real close second.”
The chemistry between Rogen and Theron is the fuel which drives the movie. It’s an easygoing banter not built on distaste or buried feelings. Their back and forth is an actual conversation as they trade histories and embarrassing moments. Long Shot has the temerity to have Fred be offered a job by Charlotte, his childhood crush, and the most powerful woman in the country, and has him give her a maybe.
Of course, he takes the job, he just doesn’t leap at it. He likes her but he doesn’t want to get his hopes up only to have them dashed because she gutted a bill just to please some corrupt politician. It’s not that Long Shot as a film is political, it’s that its characters are. They can’t help but get into arguments about politics because politics matter to them.
Fred’s best friend Lance (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) is a cheerful, successful businessman who is there for his friend. When Fred admits to being out of Charlotte’s league, Lance tells him that he deserves love. It’s important to point out Lance isn’t telling him that he deserves Charlotte. Rather, it’s important for us to understand that we deserve love so we may seek it ourselves. Jackson is hilarious as he pumps up Fred while also telling him harsh truths.
Yet, it’s Theron who nails it. I’m reminded of reporters asking Scarlett Johansson why she did Rough Night. Her answer was that is was one of the few scripts she had been offered where she wasn’t a superspy. Theron has played regular people before, but she is a movie star and Long Shot allows her to revel in it.
Maybe it’s me, but there’s something innately sweet about seeing two people sing and dance along to the soundtrack of Pretty Woman. And no it’s not the Roy Orbison classic. Theron’s physical comedy is a masterclass. Midway through the film she and Fred escape into the city to get “f*cked up”.
Of course, as always happens when you’re on your second tab of ecstasy, that’s precisely when you’re urgently needed to deal with a hostage situation in Venezuela. You wouldn’t think that seeing Charlize Theron high on ecstasy while dealing with an international crisis would be comedic gold but that’s only because you haven’t seen it.
Towards the end, there is a scene in which Lance and Fred have an argument. Fred is being a judgmental ass and Lance calls him on it. In the scene, Lance comes out as a Republican and a Christian. It is a clumsy scene attempting to show how both sides matter. In the middle of all this, Fred admits he just thought Lance wore his gold cross because he was black.
The fact that Fred realizes this is racist and that Lance calls him out on it shows a startling maturity. Yes, the scene has the arsenic taste of “both sides-ism,” but it’s more about getting Fred to pull his head out of his ass. Honestly, while I disagree with the scene, I admire the basic aim of it all—calling out Fred—that I’m willing to forgive the rest.
A bit overlong, I still found myself charmed by it. It is one of the few films in which we get to see our leads fall in love. Long Shot is a sweet, good-natured romantic comedy with both a heart and a brain.
Image courtesy of Lionsgate