Long Shot (2019)
He’s an overzealous, crusading journalist with bylines on article titles like “The Two Party System Can Suck a Dick (Actually Two Dicks)”; she’s the Secretary of State. That’s the “opposites attract”-style premise of “Long Shot,” one of the best romantic comedies in years, and as with any romantic comedy, it lives and dies on the strength of its leads.
Both Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron are in top form as two former neighbors whose shared high school passion for doing what’s right have taken them very different directions in life. Fred Flarsky (Rogen) has an excess of righteous principles resulting in a lack of responsibility – quitting his job at the VICE-style Brooklyn Advocate when it’s acquired by the FOX-style conglomerate Wembley Media – while Charlotte Field (Theron) has an excess of responsibilities resulting in the compromise of her principles, not to mention her time to sleep.
There’s a line uttered at one point to the effect of, “Just because you star in movies doesn’t make you a movie star,” and it’s hard not to think that both Theron and Rogen should qualify for the title given how well “Long Shot” harnesses their respective star qualities – steely elegance and shlubby earnestness.
When Charlotte’s boss, a vacuous former TV star and President of the United States (Bob Odenkirk), announces he won’t be seeking a second term to focus on his acting career (“I know – not many have made the jump from TV to film”), Charlotte seizes the chance to launch her own presidential campaign and coordinate an international environmental initiative to kick it off – oh, and help the Earth, too. After reconnecting with him at a fundraiser gala, she decides to recruit the newly unemployed Fred as a speech writer. Only he doesn’t jump at the chance as expected, instead questioning how much difference his work would make should the bill be watered down by political compromise like most others.
His hesitance, and her reaction, hints at one of the film’s most compelling through-lines: the contrast between Rogen’s unvarnished integrity and the hollow political artifice Charlotte is constantly immersed in, where even her methods of waving and eating skewered foods are subject to public opinion polls.
One of the film’s funniest scenes involves Theron having to handle a hostage situation in the midst of a Molly trip, while one of its sweetest sees her and Rogen doing some high school-style slow dancing in private while ritzy politicians pirouette more gracefully on the other side of the door. Moments like these go a long way in making you believe the budding romance between the two, despite the potential hit to Charlotte’s poll numbers staffers are constantly warning her about.
Of course, her career becomes an impediment to the relationship, but never in a way that feels manufactured, a trap many rom-coms fall into to create some third-act conflict. Refreshingly, there’s no easily clarified misunderstanding or unjustified bad blood between them, just a clash of ideals and ambitions, even if it occasioned by the blackmail of the Roger Stone-esque mogul Parker Wembley (human chameleon Andy Serkis, trollish and unrecognizable in an entirely new way). “Long Shot” doesn’t gloss over its characters’ emotions for the sake of a laugh or story beat, and that’s a key to its success as crucial as Rogen and Theron’s chemistry.
As you can probably tell from this synopsis, there’s a lot of not-so-subtle political satire and nods to current events in “Long Shot,” but it works because, on top of being funny and well-observed, these developments are grounded in the characters’ experiences and relationships. Fred doesn’t want to hide who he is to be with someone, and ultimately, Charlotte doesn’t want to hide who she is, or who she loves, just to be accepted by voters. There’s a thematic coherence to it all that makes “Long Shot” more than the sum of all its jokes and cutesy bonding moments, entertaining as they are.